In October 2012, a few months after the kickoff of the Path though History program, a New York Daily News headline noted: “Unhappy with the state’s tourism performance, Gov. Cuomo has ordered a restructuring of the state’s efforts, with an eye toward attracting more visitors upstate.”
“He wants to do a better job with promoting, marketing and branding,” the paper reported a source in the Cuomo administration as saying. The Governor was appealing for you, the paper said, to visit the home of Uncle Sam in Troy, see Niagara Falls, visit the Finger Lakes wineries, or even the Herkimer County Cheese Museum .”
Examples of the tourist opportunities offered in the piece included “history buffs spending a day in places like Sacketts Harbor, where an important battle was fought in the War of 1812″ or “visitors could spend some time in Troy, where the name ‘Uncle Sam’ has special meaning,” another reference to the War of 1812 (but not the bicentennial the state doesn’t support).
Cuomo wanted to “entice tourists who visit the city to extend their stays for ‘side trips’” upstate. The intent was not take away tourists from the city, but to get them to take a look at what else the state has to offer. “Everyone knows about New York City, but there’s a lot of gems and jewels throughout New York state that not enough people know about,” said, wanting “better coordination with tour operators, and close interactions with local economic development councils.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it.
Now let’s turn to his press release from December 2013 to see what happened. According to the release, New York State had a very good tourist year. A lot of statistics were provided by Cristyne Nicholas, Chair of the Governor’s Tourism Advisory Council, about the number of visitors to the state, the money they spend, the jobs they generate, the taxes they pay. All this is well and good but this is The New York History Blog so the focus here will be on did he deliver for the Cheese Museum in Herkimer? What about the War of 1812 locations cited in 2012? Did New York City visitors make trips upstate through close coordination with the tour operators?
According to the press release, fishing, sports, and wine were upstate box-office smashes in 2013. There were various sports tournaments and tours that brought in the big bucks. The PGA Championship was said to bring in $102 million to the Rochester area. There was no mention of any spillover to the historic sites there. One wonders if the historic sites ramped up their staff in anticipation of the golf tournament.
Not mentioned in the press release, but worthy of consideration, is that the annual US Open brings in tourists from around the country and the world to watch the tennis in the same Flushing Meadows Park where the Queens Museum is located. Do Queens historic sites experience an annual increase the week before and after Labor Day from all these tennis tourists? Even the ones in Flushing? Will the Onondaga Historical Society, Erie Canal Museum, and Salt Museum now experience record tourism as a result of Syracuse University joining the ACC and bringing in all those out-of-state sports fans?
Turning to Path Through History, the press release reports the following:
“2013 also saw the launch of the Governor’s Path Through History campaign, an initiative that supports tourism and economic development by highlighting significant historic sites, locations and events throughout New York. Under Path Through History, the State developed and launched a website, designed and placed tourism signage on State and Federal highways, invested in regional projects and promotion of historic sites, and rebranded Museum Week and Heritage Weekends (June 1-2 and 8-9, 2013) as Path Through History Weekends and Museum Week. More than 200 consumer events were developed throughout the state as part of the program.”
All right historic sites, especially those connected to the War of 1812, consider yourselves launched and supported. There are new signs. There is a new website. Museum Week was renamed, extended, and moved from May to June. And to top it off, over 200 events were developed. It would be interesting to know what these events are. As previously reported in The New York History Blog after those June weekends, the events listed on the websites were the normal ones the history organizations do annually, on weekends, or daily with there being no development by New York State. It’s as if the State took credit for Yankee and Mets games scheduled for those weekends simply because it now had a website that listed them. One wonders if Cristyne Nicholas knows what is going on at the historic sites and if she is the source of the bogus information that the Governor receives.
By the way, the press release did not mention what happened to the $1,000,000 promised at the kickoff event to the historic sites. It did mention the $60 million which went to the tourist industrial complex..
So how did the plan to coordinate with tour operators work out? Are they offering Paths through History which the Governor’s project has created? Including to Troy and Sacketts Harbor as promised? Will there be a Path through History exhibit 2/28-3/2 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center at the New York Times Travel Show which expects 24,000 people to showcase all the bus-operator-ready tours the Path through History project has created? Curiously the press release makes no mentioned of any tour operator actually offering a Path through History.
Let’s examine one admittedly anecdotal incident. The Alexander Hamilton Awareness (AHA) Society planned a visit to Hudson Valley from July 26-28. Stops included Kingston in Ulster County, Poughkeepsie, Beacon, and Fishkill in Dutchess County, Garrison in Putnam County, and New Windsor and West Point in Orange County. Did this organization use the Path through History website for this American Revolution tour in the Hudson Valley? Need you ask? Even though the topic is one of the themes of the Path Project and the trip occurred in one of the regions, there was no Path on the website to help them.
“Oh,” you say. “People are supposed to create their own paths from the website so you can tailor it to your own needs. That’s why there is no coordination with tour operators. ” Instead the AHA Society spent hours, literally not figuratively, working with the Dutchess County Tourist Department, which coincidentally chairs the Mid-Hudson Path region, to create the Society’s American Revolution Path. The work was made easier because even though the president of the organization was in Florida, his daughter fortuitously was a summer intern in Newburgh,. That facilitated face -to-face communication (and possibly even some pre-trip scouting). I did attend one of the events and have organized several American Revolution Teacherhostels/Historyhostels in the Hudson Valley, so I sympathize with their plight. They do take time to organize. The point here and with the bus tour I meet at the Fishkill Supply Depot that had put together its Hudson Valley tour without the Path project, is that the Path through History project exists as signs, a website, and a press release and not as a viable vehicle that actually promotes history tourism in the state. It is too bad the history community is too weak, disorganized, and lacking in leadership to inform Nicholas and Cuomo of the facts on the ground.
P.S. Kudos to the Mohawk Valley Region for creating its own Mohawk Valley Region Path Through History website and Facebook page. The region includes the very Herkimer location Cuomo spoke about in 2012. As regular readers of my posts to New York History know, there is no Mohawk Valley Region in the Path through History project. There was once when the project started and then it disappeared. And since the State had disbanded the Mohawk Valley Consortium a few years earlier, it would be too hypocritical even for New York State to take credit for this grassroots achievement. However, it does attest that “Path through History” is an excellent name (and logo) for branding history tourism in the State in the event the Governor and the Tourist Department ever become serious about wanting to do so.