Adirondack destination towns like Schroon have a bright future using social and online media -- as people turn to their smart phones to get information and make decisions on where to travel, sleep and eat, based on what they read.
That was one of the key themes in a speech given by James McKenna, the chief executive officer of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) on ways destination marketing can draw visitors and tourism to drive demand to communities, making those towns better for full time residents. And he gave Schroon Lake a special shout out at succeeding on the latter.
McKenna was talking at the ROOST Annual Meeting and Winter Social held at the Whiteface Lodge Clubhouse last Monday evening. The Schroon Chamber of Commerce is a member of ROOST, a private, not-for-profit marketing outfit, responsible for the promotion of Essex County as a tourism destination through traditional marketing efforts, communication, and quality destination development.
“It's no secret that the days of 1-800 calls and brochures are starting to be less and less valuable. People want instant information and they want it right away and they want to look at other people’s experiences before making their decision to travel,” McKenna told the audience on the topic of tourism marketing.
He said potential visitors to the Adirondacks -- and there are 85 million people within a six hour drive -- look at other peoples’ experiences while they are making their own decisions.
“The global marketing power lies in everyone’s pockets. (referring to smart phones) That’s not an exaggeration.
“People are making decisions based on online experience based primarily on social media. It’s growing at a rapid rate and it’s going to continue. Traditional advertising has changed. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s just there are other ways to do it.”
McKenna said if ROOST had a billion dollar marketing budget the Adirondacks might be advertised on TV in big metropolitan markets. Instead, ROOST wants fans of the Adirondacks to act as evangelists.
“So what we have to do is try to work the successful customers we have and make them advocates for our products and social (media) gives us that ability to do that”.
McKenna started his presentation by saying that hiking and “R&R” are the two of the biggest draws to the Adirondacks.
And when those visitors get to the Adirondacks what needs to be in place is a “critical mass of businesses that are necessary for visitors to have a good time.
“That's lodging, retail and restaurants and that’ s the area you are gonna see organizations like ours focus on more and more.
“Successful tourism today is not about marketing -- marketing is almost done by the individual now in many cases -- it's really about a mixture of marketing and destination management. The reputation of your destination is what's gonna drive your future visitors”.
“You can't have marketing if there is nothing there for people to spend their money on. The reality is that the destination experience through social (media) and everything else is gonna drive your new visitors.
McKenna said for “successful tourism“, it has to work for both visitors and residents.
“You need businesses, you need hubs. Tourism must work for residents. Tourism is done in our region for the benefit of the communities, number one , number two it’s for the visitor experience, but if we don't gain economically from it, and make our quality of life better for residents, there is really no reason to do it, so what you have to understand is we do it for residents first”.
“What we found in some of these communities we worked in, and maybe Schroon Lake is a great example, is that the facilities that residents need are the same facilities that visitors need”.
In contrast McKenna used the example of the town of Newcomb, where Governor Cuomo recently said the state was going to buy new fixed prime property for the economic benefit for the regions around it.
“Well, we could bring 1,000 people there to Newcomb, but there's no economic gain right now because there are no business there right now to spend money on. The residents have to drive to Glens Falls for groceries, there's no pharmacy there, so what we are saying is you can utilize tourism in the best manor, but if you use it as a driver to drive demand to communities -- so residents can have facilities -- that's really the cycle we are talking about more and more. Successful tourism is sustainable tourism for the benefit of the community.
Schroon Laker later asked McKenna to expand on why Schroon Lake is a good example of a town where facilities benefit both residents and tourists.
He said that visitors can help Main Street Schroon have new (and current) restaurants open all year long, more retail and more cultural activities.
“The population (year round 1800) isn’t large enough to drive that activity, so what you’ve got to do is use tourism (20,000 plus summer residents) as a means to drive the demand, so those business will be successful. That’s what we are talking about.
“I think Schroon Lake is in a good position right now with what’s going on in the Woods Inn, (The Inn on Schroon Lake) and what’s potentially going on with the other property (A motel development backed by a group of local investors which would be visible from the Northway)
“Rooms are the backbone of turning that around. Schroon Lake is also fortunate to have Word Of Life that drives some (visitors), but to get that Main Street hopping on a year round basis you need more businesses. For them to survive you need more visitors, once that happens the residents can also enjoy those businesses”.
McKenna said Schroon Lake was blessed with an amazing array of activities, singling out the music and arts scene and giving a special mention to the Seagle Music Colony.
“Oh my God, that’s a cool asset so that’s another thing that goes along with it (successful tourism).