In my last post here at The New York History Blog, I reported on a recent tourism press release issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.
Today I’d like to turn to the Governor’s State of the State address as it relate to history, history tourism, and cultural heritage tourism more generally.
Here is some of the relevant text:
“Last year I invited some of you to participate in the Adirondack Challenge at this speech, at this time. Most of you accepted the challenge. We had the new guys, who came proudly. WE had the tough guys who came. We had Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who actually made a guest appearance. We had the Thelma and Louis’s raft, which was a highly competitive one. We had the odd couple raft and we had the city slicker raft. We had the master rafters, or at least people who thought they were master rafters….Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leader Dean Skelos, since we know that something pressing must have come up because they would never just on a random fluke miss a pressing competition, we are giving them a second chance and a second challenge this year it is the 2014 bass master classic. It is the governor’s challenge, it is August 21st, it will be held on Owasko Lake. I once again hope that Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver and Jeff Klein are there for the competition it will be all in good sport but I hope that they are there and you are all invited. Let’s have some fun and promote some tourism. I will see you there.”
Even reading it now, you can feel Governor Coumo’s excitement and enthusiasm. This is what tourism means to our Governor. It appears to a perfectly legitimate and sincere passion on his part, and I do not mean to suggest he should not fish and raft. But let’s be sure to recognize what his interests and priorities are, as he’s outlined them here, and what they are not.
Our Governor saluted the Motor Vehicles Bureau for becoming a one-stop center for people to obtain the licenses one needs to engage in New York State tourism.
“Now you can go to one portal, the department of motor vehicles and you can apply for all of your licenses and they will literally be presented on your motor vehicle license rather than having to deal with a lot of agencies and carry a lot of paper.”
Is this a good idea? Of course it is. Does it promote efficiency and improved service. Certainly it does. But where is the New York State History Passport to be stamped by people to travel the paths through history? Where is the shout-out to anything historic in the state?
“[Furthermore, o]n this quest the state will open up fifty previously closed state owned lands so there will be more opportunities for hunting, fishing and boating for both in state people and tourists who come from out of state.”
Attention! All historic sites interested in tourism: make sure you have hunting, fishing, and boating otherwise the Governor is not interested.
Am I being too harsh? Not giving him a fair chance. OK, the Governor did give a shout-out to New York’s Native American heritage.
“After decades of conflicts, we renewed our spirit of partnership with the Indian nations across this state and let’s take a moment to recognize the nation representative Ray Halberdier from the Oneida nation of New York. Ron La France of the Saint Regis Mohawk, Beverly Cook of Saint Regis Mohawk and Mike Kimelburgh of the Seneca nation. Thank you and thank you for being with us today, thank you.”
Did the thanks originate due to the paths through history which had been created in recognition of the Indian contribution to New York and American history? Need you ask?
“Our casino plan is already generating great interest we said we believed it would and it is. Our challenge now is to make casinos a reality make it happen, make it happen fast and make it happen correctly our current plan is March 2014 for the RFP to go out, bids come back in June and we hope to make the selections in early Fall. The casinos are going to be run by the gaming commission and the chairman of the gaming commission, which is an appointment by me, is going to be Mr. Mark Gearan who is the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He is great academic, he the former director of the Peace Corps. He is a model of civic engagement he has done a great job at the university and it is a pleasure to have him and we thank him for taking the time to take on this important obligation. Mr. Mark Gearan, thank you very much.”
Where is the Mark Gearan for the history community?
In our neighbor to the north, Steven Thorne who writes on cultural tourism for Economic Development said the following in an interview:
“The demand for cultural tourism is enormous – but seldom recognized. I touch on this in one of my earlier posts. For example, more domestic trips by Canadians include historic sites, museums or galleries, or plays or concerts, than include spectator sports, or skiing, or golfing, or cycling, or canoeing or kayaking, or theme parks, or casino gambling.”
That observation hasn’t percolated south yet.
History tourism wasn’t completely ignored in the State of the State address.
“We are going to launch a whole new signage campaign on our roads, promoting the assets of New York, organized into three campaigns. The path through history campaign, the I love New York attraction campaign and the taste of New York Food and Beverages. You will see these signs on the roads literally in the next few days. These campaigns link online to all those attractions in that particular area, all along the thruway and all along major routes. The goal is to get people who are on the roads off the roads and into communities and fostering and promoting the economy of the state of New York.”
By now these signs should be visible throughout the state. It is a well-known fact that people make travel decisions while driving 70 MPH on the highway. The number one cause of accidents on New York’s interstates is people swerving to exit immediately to see an historic site they just read about on a sign. Signs are great if you are already on the way, but they are not catalysts for going there in the first place.
Much more effective would be advertisements in New York City calling on residents to “Get Outta Town” and go upstate. As it turns out, New York State did launch a “Get Outta Town” ad campaign in late October on the buses, subways, and commuter trains in metropolitan New York. Josh Vlasto, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, said at the time (while standing in Grand Central Station), that the Governor’s goal is to bring some of the 55 million annual visitors to New York City upstate. The ads included several interesting facts about upstate New York to entice people northward:
New York has over 1,438 family-owned vineyards
New York has over 2,000 miles of snowshoeing terrain
New York has 51.097 acres of apple orchards.
The Governor did tout the Cheese Museum in Herkimer County in his press release in 2012, but as one reader reported, it is located in Oneida County. Hopefully these numbers are more accurate.
As it turns out, earlier last summer and in the fall, a caterer brought over 1,000 kids to the Sylvia Center at Katchkie Farm in Columbia County, kids from housing projects and homeless shelters who had never been out of the city. They got their hands dirty doing farm work and cooking the results. One youngster exclaimed, “Are we still in America?” So yes, there is a lot to be said for giving city kids an outdoor experience in upstate New York, not as tourism, but as an investment in our future and open space. But it would have been nice too if they could have seen Olana overlooking the Hudson River, visited the Columbia Historical Society, and stood in the home of president Martin Van Buren.
In his post “Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity and the Adirondacks” over at the Adirondack Almanack, Pete Nelson wrote of the demographic danger confronting preserving North Country scenery. The new mayor of New York campaigned on “two cities” but New Yorkers have known for years that we are two states, Upstate and MetroNY.
This is about the experiences we want the youth of this state to have, the role of historic societies in maintaining the social fabric and developing a sense of place, and creating places people want to visit are too important for the mere political ritual of a ho-hum state of address. They are the issues which need to be addressed by a governor or president on the bully pulpit for the long term health of the state, and the country.
How can we convince our Governor that he should do more than pay lip service to the role of the history community to the well-being of the state?