Tourism Action Day occurred on March 12 this year, one week after Parks Advocacy Day. The sequence worked out well for me as I got to see some legislators twice in a very brief time.
Tourism Action Day was organized by the Tourist Industry Coalition. According to its website, the New York State Tourism Industry Coalition was formed in 1987. It is comprised of various association and industry–supporting organizations whose main goal is to represent the state’s tourism industry on key legislative and regulatory issues. It represents 22 tourism-related industry organizations throughout the state of New York including: Albany County CVB – Campground Owners of NY – Canal NY Marketing & Business Alliance – Dutchess Tourism Inc. – Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council – Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance – Hotel Association of New York City – Ithaca/Tompkins County CVB – Long Island CVB & Sports Commission – MANY: the Museum Association of New York – NYC & Company – NYS Destination Marketing Organizations – NYS Hospitality & Tourism Association – NYS Restaurant Association – NYS Tourism Industry Association – Oneida County Tourism – Otsego County Tourism – Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau – Ski Areas of New York, Inc. – Sullivan County Visitors Association, Inc. – The Business Council of New York State, Inc. – Visit Syracuse.
On March 13, 2017, the Tourism Industry Coalition embarked on a two-year plan of remaking its Tourism Action Day into a reception/networking style event. I did not attend the event last year but did this year. In the past, there were display tables from some of the members. Not this year. In the past, I saw people from MANY including its lobbyist. Not this year. I am not sure if anyone represented cultural heritage tourism.
THE MORNING SESSION
The morning program (costing $39 unlike the free Parks Advocacy program) consisted of various legislative, administrative, and tourist dignitaries. There was no mention of history tourism or the Path through History during the proceedings unlike previous years. Although history or cultural heritage tourism was not an identified topic for a speaker and was not mentioned at all, there were some issues that do relate to the history community.
Obviously the transportation infrastructure is critical. If we want people to visit historic sites as tourists, then it helps to have a good infrastructure for the potential travelers to and throughout the state. The opening of direct flights from Norway to Newburgh provides an opportunity to develop history tourist programs in the Hudson Valley to a European audience. Whether that will happen or not is another matter.
A second issue was staff. Historic sites like many tourist facilities often use summer help. Roughly speaking, the seasonal staff is available from July 4 to Labor Day due to school and maybe on weekends before and after. A proposed law to change the school year will affect the availability of high school students. Under the law, the total number of hours in the school year will remain the same but the obligation to have full-days is dropped. In other words, schools could schedule half-days. Two half days instead of one full day means one additional calendar day is needed. The more partial days a school schedules the longer the school year becomes. This means it could end later and/or begin earlier. That impacts summer staff. The Board of Regents will be debating the change for the upcoming 2018/2019 school year at its April 9-10 meeting.
One other unscheduled item occurred in talking to some upstate counties TPAs (Tourism Promotion Agents). They wondered what I was doing there since I am not in the tourist business. When I mentioned history tourism, they relayed to me how the Path through History program had undermined the programs they had been developing locally without replacing it with anything substantive. They had so little regard for the Path through History program I thought I was attending a history conference.
I add that a comment by one speaker about the infamous thruway signs that the Governor now has to remove brought a good laugh to the audience.
THE AFTERNOON LEGISLATIVE MEETINGS
A big difference between the Parks Advocacy and Tourism Action Days is in the afternoon schedule. In the former, the schedule with the legislators is arranged, in the latter, we are on our own. The Tourism Advisory Council (TAC) did schedule a meeting for the afternoon. I sometimes attend those public meetings in New York and to the best of my knowledge over the past couple of years I am the only person not in the tourism business who has attended them. They will be the subject of a future post. After speaking with Cristyne Nichols, TAC chair, and Ross Levi, Executive Director of Tourism, Empire State Development, New York State Division of Tourism (aka I Love NY), I decided my time would be more productive meeting with legislators to discuss history tourism rather than attend the afternoon TAC meeting.
I meet with the staff from the following legislators: (the * means I also visited them as part of Parks Advocacy Day)
Senator Rich Funke who as chair of the Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation committee spoke at both advocacy days
Senator José Serrano who spoke at Parks Advocacy Day, attended the history roundtable in 2014 (A Report From The NYS History Commission Roundtable), and whom I wanted to talk to about Bronx programs and municipal historian regulatory changes
*Senator Terrence Murphy
*Assemblyman Tom Abinanti who made a special point to be there and expressed great interest in history especially the site of Andre’s capture in his own district
*Assemblywoman Didi Barret who is promoting the development of training people in craft skills to preserve old buildings and is a member of the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development
Assemblyman Steve Englebright who called the history roundtable meeting in 2014 and whose legislative director then is now the state historian
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef who has a great interest in the Croton Aqueduct
Assemblyman Dan O’Donnell who spoke at both advocacy days as the chair, Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development
Assemblyman Steve Otis who is a member of the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development, my representative and we met on the floor of the Assembly.
In my opinion, these History Advocacy meetings went well but only as a first step. I made it clear that I was speaking for myself and had not in any way been designated to speak on behalf of the history community…since there is no mechanism by which to do that any way. We don’t ask so we don’t get.
I began my presentation with Turn, the AMC 4-season show about America’s first spy ring in the American Revolution and which has been the subject of previous posts (AMC Mocks the Path through History). The events of the show took place mostly in New York including in the hometown of Assemblyman Englebright. He and his staff are very aware of the missed opportunity by New York State. By that I mean in the four years of showing American Revolution events to millions of viewers never once did New York advertise to those people to come to New York and see the real places were the events occurred. INSTEAD VIRGINIA ADVERTISED ON THE SHOW ABOUT NEW YORK! When I met with AMC at a promotional event at the New-York Historical Society in 2017, they were more than willing to do promotion events in New York and have I Love NY advertising. The problem was when I spoke with them at the beginning of the viewing of Season 4, it was too late. The example of Turn turned out to be an excellent way to start the presentation. In some cases it was a literal eye-opener, I mean people opened their eyes wide on how New York had missed the boat to promote itself to a receptive national audience.
The followup to this opening was to ask suppose a person did see Turn and decided to come to New York to see the sites of the American Revolution, then what? At that point I showed them the blog I written in January about the new Civil Rights Trail in the South developed by teams consisting of their equivalents of the REDC, state tourist departments, and scholars. I referred to the various themes identified in our Path through History project, the buzz words of “cooperation and collaboration,” and the absence of exactly that, meaning the absence of teams producing itineraries for people interested in the American Revolution sites. Imagine if we had had such teams over the past few years creating these products.
I did mention familiarization tours (Getting to Know You: Familiarizing I Love NY with You). Except for one notable exception on the Dutch from Albany to Brooklyn, familiarization tours tend to be geographically based and not thematically based. History doesn’t always observe our political boundary lines. I Love NY does not have the staff with history expertise, has no one dedicated to the Path project, and has not hired consultants with that expertise. The big promotion items for Path through History are for local events that don’t generate revenue and were for events organizations already were doing. It’s more a branding event than a development event. I didn’t mention this in the briefings but at the morning session, the tourist people noted July and August as the big tourist months and the Path events occur in June and October during the school year. I also didn’t mention that Elderhostel/Road Scholars developed precisely such programs and I “borrowed” the name “Teacherhostel/Historyhostel” from them.
At this point in the 15-20 minutes presentation I segued into the human infrastructure issue – the municipal historians. This was a bit of stretch although the county historians should be working with the county TPAs. I used this connection to note the upcoming centennial on an action that still makes New York unique – having municipal historians in the first place. That it is an unfunded mandate with unclear responsibilities and no training. I mentioned the need for training in Albany at the State Museum, State Library, State Archives, State Historian, NYSOPRHP, I Love NY and the Education Department. I used this opportunity to raise the issue of the status of the municipal historian in the state.
I did leave with some specific asks as show below. One suggestion made to me was to have a resolution passed calling for a history advocacy day in the next session. This is something any legislator can initiate but it probably would be most effective if Senator Funke and Assemblyman O’Donnell did as the chairs in the two chambers. My suggestion is for another history roundtable to be held as Assemblyman Englebright did with the support of Senator Serrano in 2014. This time all the history constituencies would be invited and the meeting would be a springboard to developing an agenda of asks for History Advocacy in the next legislative session and for the legislature and gubernatorial election this year.
All in all, I think it was a productive day but only the first step with no guarantee that there would be a second one. Readers should feel me to share this information with their own elected legislators back in their communities without having to travel to the state capital.
MY HISTORY ADVOCACY DAY “ASKS” LEFT WITH EACH OF THE NINE LEGISLATORS
1. Celebrate the centennial in 2019 of the legislation creating municipal historians in the state
2. Enforce compliance with the legislation in all municipalities
3. Define the responsibilities of the municipal historians based on the population of the municipality
4. Extend the law to include creating a New York City historian
5. Extend the law to create community district historians in New York City
Municipal historians should provide the local infrastructure for the creation of history tourism programs throughout the state.
I LOVE NY
1. Allocate $1 million of its REDC funding to the Path through History project or $100,000 for each of the ten regions
2. Create teams in partnership with the New York Historian for each of the themes in the Path through History following the format of the southern states in creating a U. S. Civil Rights Trail
NEW YORK STATE HISTORIAN/MUSEUM
Establish a $1 million REDC funding pool for history projects to include what used to be done through member items, for anniversaries such as the Suffrage Centennial, and other projects
STATE SENATE AND ASSEMBLY
Create a Senate and Assembly history caucus similar to the current effort in Congress. The caucus would aim to provide a forum for members to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject throughout the state. Start by calling for a history roundtable meeting.
For my recent podcast on Bob Cudmore’s The Historians where I spoke about history advocacy, click below