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Janet Clerkin

Tourism industry in Oswego County hard hit by pandemic; event promotions currently on hold, says tourism and public information coordinator

By Lou Sorendo

Q. Can you describe how badly the tourism sector in Oswego County has been affected by COVID-19?

A.: Currently our occupancy tax revenues are down 31% compared to the first three quarters of 2019. Our fourth quarter is typically our strongest quarter in terms of visitor revenue, and we are hopeful that we will be able to recover some of the loss.

Q. Events such as Harborfest and Super Dirt Week were canceled this year. Is there any way to gauge the negative economic impact that resulted from that?

A. We don’t have hard figures, but the loss of thousands of visitors over the four- and five-day periods associated with these two events definitely affected our small businesses, and county sales and occupancy tax revenue generated by people who attend these events.

Q. Were there any destination points or facets of county tourism that got hurt more than others?

A. Event and lodging venues for wedding receptions, family reunions and conferences have been hit especially hard. Uncertainty about planning events and meetings is affecting the tourism industry across the U.S. Small businesses, including restaurants, lodgings and marinas, are struggling. Small businesses are still the backbone of our tourism economy. We encourage our residents to do everything they can to support them.

Q.:  Has the role of the Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism & Planning changed as a result of the pandemic?

A. Our mission remains the same across the whole department and like most other departments, we dedicate resources to assist during emergency situations. While we have team members contributing in various ways, the public information team has experienced the most significant increase in their daily responsibilities. We are now devoting considerably more staff resources to assist the County COVID Response Team and the County Health Department with public information activities across all realms.

Q.: How is COVID-19 affecting the tourism-related planning process as 2021 dawns? Will events and activities scheduled for early in the year be treated as tentative due to uncertainties surrounding COVID-19?

A. The planning process has changed due to uncertainty over incoming revenues that we have relied upon to support our marketing programs. For example, although we are optimistic that we will receive a portion of our 2020 I Love New York matching funds, we haven’t received any yet this year. The uncertainty over New York state finances is affecting our 2021 marketing strategies. The state has not announced an application process yet for 2021.

We are also mindful of the decrease in occupancy tax revenue and how that could affect our budget in 2021 and subsequent years.

We typically start promoting major events such as Harborfest, Paddlefest, the county fair, Apple Festival and Super DIRT Week in January. Our event promotions are currently on hold.

That being said, local organizations and attractions are working hard to develop creative virtual programs until they can accept visitors again, and some are planning scaled-back outdoor events. These include the annual Tourathon Cross-Country Ski Race [Jan. 23] and the Stone Wall Snowshoe Race [Jan. 24, 2021] at Winona Forest Recreation Area. That is very encouraging news.