As the country and the Hudson Valley region begin to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s an interesting time for the regional tourism industry.
Amanda Dana, director of tourism for Orange County Tourism and president of Hudson Valley Tourism, is an expert on making the Hudson Valley a destination for both people and businesses — which is key, she believes, to the recovery process.
“I truly feel — and this is what many of my colleagues feel, too — that the key to economic recovery is tourism,” Dana said.
“That means if we can get open and we can attract visitors to come here, that is the key to not only direct spending, but indirect spending in the region. The key to reopening and the key to recovery is tourism, because before any of that happens, you have people coming here, wanting to be here, spending money in your area and creating jobs in your area.”
It seems that the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp. is on the same page in recognizing the importance of tourism; in May, Dana became a member of the organization’s board of directors.
“I plan to get involved as much as I can to help with those high-level conversations relative to economic development in the region,” she said. “Perhaps even introduce ways that we can work on attracting different companies to the Hudson Valley or techniques that might be successful from a tourism perspective that others who are a part of HVEDC can capitalize on. I’m looking forward to the mission and I’m looking forward to contributing.”
Dana spoke with the Business Journal just after her first meeting with the board, and said they had talked about something quite familiar to her — Legoland, Orange County’s newest theme park. Dana and her team have been highly involved in Legoland’s opening and conducting strategic marketing for it.
The theme park officially opened on Memorial Day weekend, marking a major new attraction for tourists to come to Orange County. By that point, Dana had already been working on the project for roughly five years.
Through her role as county tourism director, she not only directly advocates for projects like Legoland to place their sites locally, she also focuses on promoting the existing tourism assets in the county.
“We actively promote all of our tourism and we are constantly trying to create marketing initiatives that will encourage people to come to Orange County and to basically just spend visitor dollars,” she said. “So we focus on different sectors in Orange County. We have our craft beverage sector, which has really been very popular and it didn’t even see a drop in sales during the pandemic. We have arts and culture. We have history, we have shopping and we have recreation as well. So with all those sectors combined, we have to create unique strategic marketing initiatives for folks to come to Orange County and to enjoy all of those sectors of tourism.”
Lately, Dana has even been focusing on tourists coming by plane, working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs New York Stewart International Airport, to figure out how to encourage more flights from Stewart and more people to use the airport for their air transportation, because of course, when more people come to the region, all other industries are uplifted.
And there are some industries that are in need of an uplift after facing the worst of the economic impact of Covid-19. Dana cited the hotels and events industries as ones that have been struggling particularly.
“Those two industries, which do contribute quite a bit to sales tax and bed tax, were hit substantially,” Dana said. “So we’re very happy about the new revenue streams and the new resources that are out there from the federal government to help out this industry. We wish there was more, of course, but we’re very happy that that’s out there. And many of our properties have been taking advantage of capitalizing on that.”
Dana is optimistic for their future, however, as they start to make comebacks after a tough year.
“It’s funny, because we have an event calendar on our website, and our events section was not even populated for so long. We were just so down about it, but now it’s so refreshing to see that events are starting to now come in. A lot of them outdoors, of course — folks are more comfortable outdoors, but there’s a lot of events now populating in our event calendar. So things are definitely opening up. It’s a good place to be in.”
Hollywood on the Hudson
Dana also pointed toward an industry growing rapidly in the region, partly as a result of the pandemic: film.
The Orange County Film Office was acquired by Orange County Tourism in 2019, so Dana’s department now works hard to help filmmakers find locations, attract productions to the Hudson Valley and work with privately held soundstages to develop Orange’s filming resources.
The Umbra Stages in Newburgh are part of those key resources for bringing film projects to Orange County. Over the past year, a big draw for those projects was the fact that the Hudson Valley was able to open up sooner than New York City, Dana said.
“So if you remember, New York City was about six weeks behind the Hudson Valley,” she said. “And so what happened was, the production teams said, ‘We can’t stop and wait to film. We have to figure out another way.’ And that way was coming up to the Hudson Valley. Newburgh was a destination for these productions because they had certified soundstages to work with.”
Not only is Umbra expanding, having just acquired the former event space Anthony’s Pier 9 to convert to production, but Dana expressed that their model will likely be replicated throughout the County and the larger Hudson Valley, seizing on the momentum that the pandemic afforded to make the region a filming destination.
A notable production currently working in the area is HBO’s “White House Plumbers,” filming mostly in Newburgh, Kingston and Poughkeepsie. Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux are the stars, with Harrelson even spotted recently in a Beacon restaurant.
“That’s going to be huge,” Dana said. “They’re going to be here over nine months and it’s probably close to a $100 million production.”
The Hallmark Channel is set to secure the soundstages as well, along with several independent film projects.
Dana is optimistic that the Hudson Valley will continue to grow its unique industries and keep drawing visitors and new projects into the future, which in turn will have far-reaching effects that contribute to the economic health of the region.
“I’ve always said it, but it’s really apparent to me now, that when these regions in the state start opening, when our region opens and our county opens, we’re going to see a lot of sales tax revenue (from tourism) that’s helping our economy,” Dana said.
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