New Challenges for Area Tourism

March 18, 2013 Updated Mar 18, 2013 at 7:13 AM EDT

By James Fink, Buffalo Business First

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New Challenges for Area Tourism

March 18, 2013 Updated Mar 18, 2013 at 7:13 AM EDT

New York state's tourism and hospitality industry is accustomed to legislative battles but threats are now coming from different sources.

Aside from traditional issues, such as under-funded tourism promotion programs, the industry is now bracing for a jump in the minimum wage and the potential of a longer school year. The state's minimum wage may increase by as much as 24 percent on July 1, rising from $7.25 an hour to $9. That would directly impact many tourism destinations that hire part-time summer help - usually high schoolers and college students, said Jan Marie Chesterton, New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association president.

Chesterton was the keynote speaker at Friday's hospitality association "eggs & issues" gathering at the Buffalo Niagara Marriott.

Of equal concern is the proposal to extend the school year adding "learning days" around the Christmas/New Year's holidays and starting the new school year in August instead of early September.

"I know it is pretty politically incorrect to talk against extending the school year," Chesterton said. "But, from the view of our industry, you might be eliminating winter vacations and shortening the summer season."

It goes beyond that, Chesterton said.

A shortened summer break may not only involve family vacations but also reduce the pool of workers that many destinations rely on for the June, July, August period.

"It is sort of a double whammy," Chesterton said. "But, we also know this is a tough one to argue because we are talking educating our youth."

In other topics covered during the session:

• Chesterton said the proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bring state-operated casinos to New York is one her association is studying but not, as of yet, taking a position that either supports or opposes the plan.

"Let's let it go through the process," she said. "We all know there's a lot of questions. We acknowledge it could be helpful for some of our members and bad for others."

• Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, Visit Buffalo Niagara president and CEO, said Albany lawmakers need to funnel more tourism promotion dollars towards Western and Upstate New York.

"We need help getting people down the Thruway," she said.

• John Percy, Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp. president and CEO, said he is anxiously awaiting to see how the three-person arbitration panel rules on monies Seneca Gaming Corp. has put into escrow while it settles its long-running dispute with New York state concerning casino-related issues. The panel's decision is expected this year.

The NTCC is supposed to receive a slice of the slot machine revenue generated from the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel. Percy said while the money has been held in an escrow account, he has sliced his marketing budget by 35 percent in the past three years until the dispute is resolved.

"Casino cash is something that has hurt us severely," Percy said.

• Heard a plea from Niagara County outdoor sportsman specialist Bill Hilts to encourage federal lawmakers to free-up $8 billion for harbor repairs. The money could help fund much needed dredging operations at the Wilson and Olcott Harbors along Lake Ontario.

"Some of the harbors are at a critical point when it comes to the need for dredging," Hilts said.

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