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NYS’s Tourist-Industrial Complex

I have used the term tourist-industrial complex to refer to the recipients of the New York State funding from the Path through History project, but the funding goes beyond the Path project or even tourism. This funding did not go to the history community. Instead tens of millions of dollars went to advertising. That has now become an issue in the media and in the ongoing gubernatorial campaign.

A recent article by Joseph Spector, the Albany Bureau chief of Gannet Company attempts to address where the money funneled to Empire State Development (ESD), which includes ILoveNY and therefore the Path through History project, went.

Similar questions were raised when the Path through History project was unveiled nearly two years ago. Spector’s article does not address the sources of funding for the Path signs or website, because the focus is New York’s “Open for Business” marketing campaign to promote Start-Up NY and to encourage business to set up shop here.

According to the article, $150 million was allocated for three years to ESD to market the state’s business climate and tourism. The program was extended for another year with $50 million being allocated from the NYS Power Authority for use by ESD. This fund is separate from another advertising budget of $45 million controlled by the ESD to promote tourism, the fourth-largest employment sector in the state.

The report makes clear that there has been no public accounting of how the $150 million for the advertising campaign has been allocated. Gannet filed a Freedom of Information request with ESD on July 9, 2013, over a year ago, asking for information about the expenditures. The response has been delays. Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, states that under state law a FOIL request that has been extended more than twice has essentially been denied.

Going public seems to have worked. In a third article on July 18, The Journal News reported that ESD announced that it had spent $161 million out of $237.5 million. The additional $37.5 million is from storm-recovery funding following Sandy. Governor Cuomo is reported as being unaware of the withholding of this public information and says he will look into it.

As might be expected, Westchester County Executive and candidate for Governor Robert P. Astorino has questioned the expenditures as wasteful and “for [Cuomo’s] own political gain.” State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has announced that he is undertaking an audit of the $200 million ad campaign. Undoubtedly this discussion on advertising expenditures, tourism, upstate, and historic sites will continue.

All this relates to a comment on Bruce Dearstyne’s recent post about the importance of the proposed New York State History Commission. Peter Evans, the Wayne County Historian and a regular reader of The New York History Blog, wrote:

While all the money that is made available for promotion in NYS is funneled thru I Love NY, the history and cultural heritage community is pretty much totally ignored… and remember, I Love NY funding reaches all the way down into the local county level budgets. It is abundantly clear that the general tourism structure really doesn’t understand how to work for the benefit of history and heritage tourism sites. Only the big mega-sites are recognized at all and they are almost all special topic sites like the George Eastman House and the Corning Glass Museum which really don’t address NYS and local history at all.

It appears that we need a rethinking from the bottom up and then from the top down.. and any and all discussions must include funding lines.

Peter raises important points. Despite all the public comments supporting the state’s history by the Governor, some of which Bruce quoted in his post, the tourist-industrial complex is unfamiliar with history and heritage sites outside Manhattan and some crown jewels, has made no effort to learn about them since the Path project began, and has no interest in supporting them. It appears there is not a single person assigned full time to the Path project. Wineries and recreation may be the chief beneficiaries of the advertising campaign (although determining if that is in fact true remains problematic). Certainly the historic sites are not.

In New York City, meaning Manhattan, tourism, has been skyrocketing. It is now at 55 million people per year, beyond expectations. People with common sense know that ads touting upstate wineries aren’t the cause of this increased tourism. People with common sense know that an improved economy has made the safe and secure world capital with a revitalized downtown even more appealing as a tourist destination. Times Square, Broadway, and Macy’s continue to draw and venues like Columbia, NYU, and the Metropolitan Museum attract people from outside the city, state, and country.

Consider what might happen if Empire State Development and I Love NY actually promoted New York State History and reached out to tour operators to visit historic New York.


2 thoughts on “NYS’s Tourist-Industrial Complex

  1. Peter, last two postings were so informative. The blog is improving with each posting.

    I am sharing this with many of my colleagues and hope they will sign up.

    Keep it up-this is good work.

  2. August 9/10 we at HSRC are doing a SOLD OUT bus trip to Albany / Cohoes/ Mohawk Valley themed on The Summer of 1777, but we needed blood sweat and tears to make it a go, with subsidized dollars. Wouldn’t it be great if a small fraction of the monies talked about in this post went to subsidize any local history group’s initiated and supported history events, especially history bus tours? We have no shortage of ideas and great itineraries…internal to Rockland County, regional to metro NY, or most recently in upstate NY, and even SMALL funding amounts would make those possible.

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