Testimony before the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks,                                  Arts and Sports Devel...
Saved from the auction block in 1966, thanks to a group called Olana Preservation Inc. and thenNew York State, Olana has u...
So, the question is whether Olana is just not as important as all these other sites or if themarketing of Olana and other ...
not State-wide and beyond. Of course, there are many wonderful people who work in the variouscounty tourism offices – but ...
We know that there are some exciting initiatives underway at the State level, which gives us hopethat this is turning arou...
As a representative of the private side of one of the most successful public-private partnerships inthe State Parks system...
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Marketing cultural tourism in the hudson valley testimony before assembly committee on tourism, january 2013 (1) (1)

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This was a response to a request to share our perspective on how the marketing of cultural tourism in NYS was going. I focused on the Hudson Valley and stressed that there is great talent among the State agencies but that the cultural destinations aren't seeing the impact at the

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Marketing cultural tourism in the hudson valley testimony before assembly committee on tourism, january 2013 (1) (1)

  1. 1. Testimony before the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development January 15th, 2013 By Sara Johns Griffen, President, The Olana PartnershipMy name is Sara Griffen, and I am president of The Olana Partnership, the non-profit support armof Olana State Historic Site, home, studio, farm and 250-acre artist-designed landscape oflandscape painter Frederic E Church, in Hudson, NY. I am glad to have the opportunity to speaktoday on the impact of various State programs in developing New York State’s tourism industryfrom the perspective of Olana as an example of New York’s many cultural sites.Olana is among the first National Historic Landmarks, designated in 1966, a recognition made allthe more remarkable because the entire 250-acre site, not just the house, was so designated in aday when the focus was primarily on great houses and not as much on the surrounding landscape.More recently, Olana was recommended by the National Parks Service for consideration as aWorld Heritage Site, on par with the Taj Mahal. Fundamental to these designations is therecognition that the homes of Frederic Church and his mentor, Thomas Cole, located directlyacross the Hudson River in Catskill, epitomize America’s first art and conservation movement,the Hudson River School of art. 1
  2. 2. Saved from the auction block in 1966, thanks to a group called Olana Preservation Inc. and thenNew York State, Olana has undergone a gradual transformation to restore it to Frederic Church’soriginal vision. Over the years, The Olana Partnership has helped raise over $18 million towardsthe restoration and enhancement of the site and its surrounding Viewshed.Today Olana is recognized at least regionally – with 130,000 visitors a year, 25,000 of whom taketours of the main house -- leading to an impact on the local economy of $7.9 million a year,according to a model used by the National Parks Service. It has been featured in full page articlesin the New York Times as well as articles in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe andWashington Post, and a couple of years ago was a featured video on the Martha Stewart show.Our galas in New York City honor such luminaries as Martha Stewart, Alice Walton of Walmartand Crystal Bridges Museum fame, and top art and conservation leaders, leading the chief curatorfor Harvard’s Fogg Museum to call Olana’s Gala “a landmark event in the field of American art”.Bill Moyers called Olana “the queen among the jewels of the Hudson Valley”. Frederic Church’spaintings are featured all over the world – a show is just about to open at the National Gallery ofLondon, moving onto the National Gallery of Scotland. The list goes on.Despite these fairly impressive numbers and facts, Olana remains relatively unknown nationallyand internationally except by a certain segment of the population who actively seeks out culturalexperiences. If you ask a local person on the street, whether he or she lives in Albany orWisconsin, if they have heard of Olana, the invariable answer is “what’s that?”On the other hand, if they are asked about Monticello, Mount Vernon, Hearst Castle, theBiltmore, Shelburne Farms or the Norman Rockwell Museum, the answer is much more likely tobe positive. 2
  3. 3. So, the question is whether Olana is just not as important as all these other sites or if themarketing of Olana and other cultural tourism sites in New York State has just not been aseffective as it could be. I believe work needs to be done to position Olana, Thomas Cole’s CedarGrove and other great cultural landmarks in the Hudson Valley as core to “the birthplace ofAmerican culture”, and in more effectively marketing this nationally important designation.As many today have and will attest, cultural tourism is big business in the country. It is the oneof the fastest growing elements of tourism; celebrating a community’s cultural highlights leads tocommunity pride and a quality of life that makes it attractive for people to build homes andbusinesses in that community. A case in point is Hudson, NY – because it has been able topreserve and promote its historic authenticity, people, businesses, restaurants, and B&Bs areproliferating. So the impacts reach considerably beyond tourism.However, it is perceived by many in our field that New York State could do a better job inproviding the infrastructure to ensure that our sites are shown off in their best light, and inmarketing these cultural meccas. It has been painful to watch the struggle that New York StateParks has undergone to try to provide high quality service with completely inadequate funding.While there have been some improvements in the last couple of years, the fact is that at Olana,with 250 acres, twelve buildings, and 130,000 visitors, the State provides one Historic SiteManager, a couple of professional tour guides and the equivalent of 2 ½ maintenance people asthe professional staff – it is no wonder that the Site Manager has to spend much of her time as thecashier.When it comes to marketing funds, it has always been a mystery to many of us why State tourismfunding is provided to counties rather than regions – it has made little sense to focus just oncounty attractions, when the attractions that would truly tell a compelling story are region-wide, if 3
  4. 4. not State-wide and beyond. Of course, there are many wonderful people who work in the variouscounty tourism offices – but in terms of an effective regional campaign, it would seem to make somuch more sense to provide funding on a regional basis, along the same vein as the RegionalEconomic Development Councils. We were therefore pleased to read that Hudson ValleyTourism received funding for this very concept in the latest round of REDC funding.We at The Olana Partnership (and we may speak from the perspective of representatives fromother historic sites) have also just never had any interaction with ESD from a tourism perspective.While we have heard of the I Love New York program, we haven’t seen the impact in terms ofvisitors citing the program as the reason they came to Olana. It is not to say that this doesn’thappen but when we have done visitor surveys, we have rarely heard anyone say they came toOlana because of the I Love New York program.We have the sense that there are innovative professionals at ESD and the contracting advertisingagencies but we never have had the opportunity to talk with them about their ideas for effectivelypositioning and marketing our sites. We could use help in reaching out to new audiences – weknow that the old historic site concept honoring the old, dead white male is long gone – but weneed to understand what is resonating with younger people, and national and internationalaudiences. Is it the backstairs tours? Is it promoting what made America tick culturally in the 19thcentury that provided the roots for its greatness today? Is it how those ideas are translated tocontemporary, relevant and cool ideas now? Is it about action and movement – hikes, apps thatmake the sites come alive, easy access to activities like swimming or boating in the Hudson Riverthat one day we hope will finally reach acceptable pollution standards across the board? Wethink that the State’s resources can tap into some of these ideas but so far it hasn’t been easy tofind. 4
  5. 5. We know that there are some exciting initiatives underway at the State level, which gives us hopethat this is turning around: - First, we have continued to be impressed with the work of the Hudson River Valley Greenway, which has served as a facilitating force for the cultural sites and communities in the Hudson Valley; granted, their mission isn’t tourism, per se, but their work provides a critical meeting ground for the exploration of regional marketing ideas; - Second, we have profited greatly from the work of the Hudson Valley National Heritage Area, which is managed by the Hudson Valley Greenway, again, in creating synergy between the many cultural attractions in the valley; - Third, we are excited about the new I Love NY campaign which apparently is going to focus more efforts on promoting upstate New York. We have long felt that if even a small percentage of the millions of people who visit New York City from other states and countries realized that the Hudson Valley is a quick day trip for them on Amtrak or the Taconic, they would be amazed by the riches of the region. - Fourth, we are most encouraged by the progress underway at the Path Through History program – the program seems to promote what many of us have believed for years, that history and culture bring tourism, economic development and jobs. - Fifth, we are pleased to see that the concept of Heritage Weekend, which started in France and is now one of the most popular tourism programs in Europe, has received support from the current administration and will be folded into the Path Through History program. - Sixth, we have been encouraged to see the recognition by the REDCs that tourism plays such an important role in New York’s economy today. As a result of this growing recognition, Olana was honored to be the recipient of both rounds of CFA funding. 5
  6. 6. As a representative of the private side of one of the most successful public-private partnerships inthe State Parks system, I can tell you that it is much easier for me to get funding from privatedonors when it is clear that New York State is actively engaged in doing its part in providing theinfrastructure for and promoting its attractions.In sum, I would say that there are clear signs of progress in marketing the cultural attractions ofNew York State; however, it is still unclear how much money and other resources will actually bedevoted to the programs. I have always understood that other states spent significantly moremoney in marketing their states’ cultural attractions. If New York State can continue to makeserious inroads in taking care of and promoting its cultural attractions, it will be much easier toengage the private sector – the hotels, restaurants and other core aspects of the hospitalityindustry are ready to join in with packages and other joint programming for mutual benefit.Further, many communities in NY are poised for continued growth if we can preserve andpromote what makes these regions so culturally unique. Thank you for the opportunity to speaktoday. 6

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