Marketing efforts switching to recreational activities, including hiking, lake sports
By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
In response to the COVID crisis, many people have been seeking fun activities that can also be done safely with social distancing. Outdoor activities seems to be the natural solution and Otsego County has
plenty of outdoor activities to do for those inclined.
Cassandra Harrington, executive director of Destination Marketing, is well versed in outdoor activities for Otsego County. She goes kayaking and said Gilbert Lake State Park is “one of my favorite places to go
hiking.” She said she also plans on going skydiving with Just Jump at the Westville Airport.
So, when she was approached by people looking for things to do in Otsego County that are socially distanced and outdoors, she had the answer.
“During the pandemic, one of the trends people were seeking to do was outdoor activities,” Harrington said, explaining that Otsego County “has a ton of natural resources.”
Destination Marketing started an initiative called Cooperstown Naturally, which aims to introduce those in need of outdoor activities to the plethora of options that exist near Cooperstown and in Otsego County.
Some of these activities include biking, hiking, boating, camping, fishing and more.
The Otsego County Chamber of Commerce hosted a Zoom town hall Tuesday, July 27, to discuss workforce needs for small businesses.
The participants included Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19, State Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Maryland, Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-New Hartford, and Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie.
The overall sentiments of the Zoom call echoed the reality of a huge problem with understaffing and the difficulties hiring employees in Otsego County.
Business owners spoke of restaurants being unable to service customers due to staff shortages and some businesses being forced to close early based on having no staff available.
Audrey Benkenstein, from Opportunities for Otsego, spoke about how many of her organization’s positions required advanced degrees and training, which made finding employees very difficult.
“We serve a vulnerable population and without staffing our programs suffer,” Benkenstein said. She said there were also lack of transportation options, lack of internet issues and lack of day care assistance available.
A new advertising campaign by www.ThisisCooperstown.com, which is managed by Destination Marketing Corporation, has a focus on outdoor activities with the intention of drawing people to the area post-pandemic.
The website, which now has a page called ‘Get Outside’, will have links to trails, playgrounds and boat rentals among other things.
Otsego County’s tourism efforts are being refocused on outdoor activities, fall weddings and vaccinated out-of-state residents, according to a presentation given to the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its May meeting.
Harrington addressed the Representatives at their meeting, which was held via Zoom, because of the coronavirus pandemic, on Wednesday, May 5.
She said the group is looking to increase late summer and fall tourism in an effort to boost 2021 bed tax money.
Harrington said her group, which was spun off from the county in 2014 and added Schoharie County as a client two years ago, has shifted to a virtual campaign, allowing it to add several promotional categories and “pages” to its promotional materials.
DMC is launching an outdoor activities website that culls information and links to all the other county locations for hiking, boating, fishing, winter sports and more. Those sites include state parks, Otsego 2000’s Otsego Outdoors website, information about playgrounds, camp sites, hotels and more.
With tourism dealt another pandemic-related blow last week, Otsego County’s leaders are increasingly turning to outdoor adventures to lure visitors.
“We’re actually in the process right now of trying to launch a massive campaign to tout our outdoor adventure,” said Cassandra Harrington, executive director of Destination Marketing Corporation, which promotes tourism in Otsego and Schoharie counties.
Harrington said the tourism news has been mostly dismal in the week since Cooperstown Dreams Park announced it would require all teams playing at the park’s summer tournaments to be vaccinated for the coronavirus pandemic. The uncertainty of getting vaccinations for children and a hard refund deadline has left dozens of teams in a catch-22, leading to hundreds of reported cancellations.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s winter announcement that it was moving its postponed 2020 Induction Weekend to a virtual event, had already crushed pre-pandemic hopes for a record sized crowd for Derek Jeter’s induction.
However, the reopening of the baseball parks, Dreams Park in Hartwick Seminary and Cooperstown All-Star Village in West Oneonta, was a big pillar of the county’s hopes for a renewed summer of tourism. All-Star Village has not announced similar vaccination requirements for its teams, but the Dreams Park changes make its June opening unlikely, Harrington said.
“Now that the bottom fell out with Dreams Park, our accommodations are dealing with a flood of cancellations,” she said. “So, we really need those outdoor visitors more than ever.”
COOPERSTOWN – DMCOC is looking at the doughnut, not the hole.
And the doughnut, for now, is the great outdoors, says Cassandra Harrington, executive director of the Destination Marketing Corp. of Otsego County.
In an interview Friday, May 15, Harrington said DMCOC, which contracts with Otsego County to put “heads in beds” to generate occupancy tax, had met with her board of directors the day before and it was awaiting final visuals from PaperKite, the advertising agency, to launch a program on June 1, when
Phase Two arrives and shops can open.
There is some urgency to begin promotions again.
In 2018, tourism brought in $206 million to Otsego County. Of that, $101 million was spent on payroll, funding 7,426 jobs, mostly gone this year.
In March 2019, county hotels billed $948,312; this March, it was $483,269, and there was a 46.4 drop in occupancy. “Mind you, that’s with a half-month of normalcy,” Harrington said.
With all of Cooperstown’s main draws cancelled, delayed or on hold – from Cooperstown Dreams Park to Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame Induction – and much other activity limited by Governor Cuomo’s PAUSE, DMCOC is looking at what’s left.
“I don’t have a lot of good news,” said Harrington. “I have optimism.”
Which is: “outdoor assets,” state parks, lakes, the river. “Picnic at Lakefront Park, kayak the Susquehanna, swim in Otsego Lake, enjoy the beach at Gilbert Lake,” said Harrington.
These are all activities conducive to social distancing, so an infection-sensitive population is more likely to respond to the promotion.
Otsego County Chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan said she’s working with Harrington on the county’s Economic Development Task Force – Harrington chairs it – to ensure Oneonta, with its parks, the Susquehanna Greenway and hiking opportunities, fully participates.
“People are going to be travelling closer to home; they’re penned in and they want to get out,” Harrington said, so the marketing footprint, usually the Northeast, the nation and the world, is now within 150 miles from the flagpole at Main and Pioneer.
That includes the east end of Rochester, most of the rest of Upstate, dipping down toward Scranton, Pa. It does not include plague-stricken New York City.
The promotions will be rolled out on Instagram and the “This Is Cooperstown” Facebook page, where the Paperkite video had been posted as of Tuesday. The DMCOC video features “brand promoters,” people here and around the country talking about how they can’t wait to visit their favorite attractions.
For now, “all spending is on pause,” said Harrington, but beginning June 1, paid social promotion and retargeting will resume, which will place ads on websites, the leading ones which typically include accuweather.com, weather.com, Fox News, nyt.com, CNN, USA Today and Pandora.
The ads will be swapped out with other regional attractions – the Adirondacks,
for instance – in the hope people interested in one Upstate attraction will be interested in others.
What distinguishes Otsego County in potential visitors’ minds? the DMCOC asked. Baseball, or course. “It’s a national attraction,” Harrington said.
So the theme is “Cooperstown On Deck,” a batting line-up. “Texts are emerging to match who’s open at what time,” she said.
For instance, if COVID-19 infections remain in check, Phase Four – it pretty much opens up the whole economy, subject to social distancing and other cautionary steps – will arrive in late June.
The DMCOC – it is chaired by Ken Meifert, the Hall of Fame vice president – is looking to July 1 as a “pretty good target date” for some of the museums to open. (The Clark Sports Center, part of the Clark family interests, has already announced it is looking to open at that time.)
“If museums need less people,” given the precautionary measures, “we may have to be careful about how much we can promote,” said Harrington.
In the fall, there will be another push to bring people from around the region to see the foliage.
COOPERSTOWN – Two lucky Philadelphia residents may soon be able to find themselves in Cooperstown thanks to a contest and marketing campaign through a new partnership with Carvertise and the Destination Marketing Corporation for Otsego County.
“We’re always on the lookout for creative ways to break through the white noise of advertising,” says Cassandra Harrington, Executive Director of Destination Marketing. “This campaign is effective on its own, but also complements other components of our marketing strategy.”