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Local News

August 16, 2013

County mulls private firm to market tourism

COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County lawmakers are considering privatizing the county’s tourism promotion efforts, and handing over the task of divvying up bed-tax collections to outside experts who officials say are better equipped to come up with the best strategies to attract visitors to the region.

The idea of privatizing the county’s tourism department has been led by the agency’s director, Deb Taylor, who is expected to retire in the next two years, said County Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, the chairwoman of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

“The goal here is to get a better return on our investment,” said Schwerd.

A nonprofit entity — likely to be called Otsego County Tourism — would be created to oversee how the tourism dollars are spent, she added. The new organization would have two full-time employees who would answer to the board of directors of the new nonprofit, not to county government.

Schwerd conceded that county representatives lack the expertise to make the strategic-marketing decisions on how bed-tax dollars are spent in a way that can lure tourists to the region.

The people involved in tourism-related businesses, she said, “know what programs really have merit and which ones are worthy of our support. They are going to structure a board of directors that will include both large and small properties, and have people from the northern end and southern end of the county, so that we get the most bang from the buck and it does not appear that the Cooperstown area gets more than its fair share.”

A working group of people interested in assisting the privatization effort has included representatives of local chambers of commerce, as well as Bill Michaels of Fly Creek Cider Mill and the president of the Cooperstown Beverage Trail, James Miles, general manager at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, and Ken Meifert, senior director of development at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, she noted.

If the proposal is approved, Taylor and her assistant would become employees of the new entity, Schwerd said.

“Deb’s whole goal is to see tourism privatized once again,” said Schwerd, noting the earlier model was transformed into a county agency by a previous county board chairman who wanted the county to have greater control.

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