Backed by $300,000 in hotel occupancy tax revenue, Westchester County officials this summer will launch an advertising campaign that targets potential visitors within a 100-mile radius of the county.
The promotional campaign, “Meet Me in Westchester County,” follows a state-sponsored economic impact study that found visitor spending in the county grew by about 8 percent in 2011 to nearly $1.66 billion. That level was only $6 million less than visitor spending here in 2007, before the recession curbed both business and leisure travel and the hotel industry’s meetings and events trade. Visitor spending in the county reached a five-year low in 2009, when it dropped to $1.39 billion.
Westchester visitors last year accounted for 54 percent of all visitor spending in the Hudson Valley region, according to the report by Tourism Economics in Philadelphia. Their spending either directly or indirectly supported nearly 24,000 jobs, or 6 percent of all jobs in the county. Those jobs are in the food and beverage sector – which accounted for the largest share, 26 percent, of visitor spending in the county – and in retail, lodging, transportation, recreation and second-home construction.
Speaking at a campaign unveiling at Lyndhurst, the riverfront estate and mansion in Tarrytown, County Executive Robert P. Astorino said 70 percent of visitors to the county are here for business purposes. “We want them to come back with their families too and enjoy this,” he said.
“There’s no reason that Westchester in and of itself can’t be a destination for people to come to for two or three days, or longer.”
Astorino and Natasha Caputo, director of the county tourism and film division of the Office of Economic Development, said the campaign initially will target couples traveling on weekends, especially those in their 30s and older.
Caputo’s tourism and film office in July will begin rolling out print and digital ads for the Meet Me in Westchester campaign. The tourism office also will use its visitwestchesterny.com website, accompanied by social media, to inform visitors of deals and travel packages at hotels, restaurants, retail stores and destinations in the county. Astorino said the county also will arrange package deals for tourists with Metro-North Railroad and seek out tourism industry partners in cross-promotions.
He stressed that the county is not embarking on a solo venture. Rather, the campaign is “a collaborative effort” of county government and the travel and tourism industry. “Everybody’s got skin in the game,” he said.
The Meet Me in Westchester branding campaign was created by the county tourism and film office in partnership with Thompson & Bender L.L.C., the Briarcliff Manor public relations and marketing agency. Its creators were guided by the county’s commissioned study of how Westchester is perceived as a travel destination, which was conducted by Phoenix Marketing International in Rhinebeck. The firm surveyed 1,000 Westchester residents and non-residents within a 250-mile radius of the county.
The survey found that Westchester is viewed as a generally affordable and accessible destination for short getaways. Visitors are aware of its many business venues and fine dining choices. Visitors also wanted to learn more about the county’s offerings.
The county’s key challenges, according to its survey consultant, include building “a compelling destination image almost from the ground up” with limited resources, raising awareness of its tourism offerings and encouraging visitors to return to Westchester and to recommend it to others as a tourism destination.
Astorino said the ad campaign is an opportunity to create for outsiders an image of Westchester, which has not had a distinctive one other than as a suburban enclave. “We have clay and we can mold it to fit,” he said.
“We don’t have a bad image to overcome, that’s the good thing.”
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