NYS Tourism Conference Episode 1

Episode 132

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We recently attended the 2019 NYSTIA Conference in Buffalo, New York and interviewed presenters, conference attendees, and Tourism Excellence Award winners. My interviews focused on the conference themes of inclusion, fostering community engagement, and “tourism is everybody’s business”, as well as key takeaways from the conference. I hope you find these conversations informative and inspiring.

In this episode, I share my conversations with:

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How the opening of the Legoland New York theme park in Orange County, New York is bringing new opportunities for both tourism and community engagement to the county
  • How Adirondack Diversity Solutions helps organizations create roadmaps for diversity and inclusion strategic planning, and why communities of color are a generally underserved market within tourism
  • How Visit Rochester’s innovative Visitor Industry Council is bringing the area’s tourism-related businesses together and fostering a sense of community engagement
  • How the Explore & More Children’s Museum has integrated the concepts of diversity and inclusion into each of their rotating exhibits to reflect the diverse community of Western New York
  • How Oneida County Tourism is using unique partnerships with a local college and radio station to build community engagement and awareness of their mission and the work they are doing
  • How Madden Media’s presentation focused on teaching organizations that “heads in beds” is just a single statistic that is part of a larger experience tourists have, and why it isn’t a reliable metric for the whole experience
  • How the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is working to be more inclusive with their marketing efforts, including tailoring marketing to diverse groups such as the LGBT community

Orange County Tourism

Amanda Dana from Orange County Tourism discusses how leaders in the tourism industry can make an impact on inclusivity within tourism. She shares why the message these leaders give needs to be clear and concise. She shares her excitement about the tourism opportunities being brought to Orange County by Legoland New York, opening in May 2020. She discusses the economic impact of a major site like Legoland partnering with the county, and how they have worked to be as engaged with the community as possible from the beginning. She talks about the important takeaway from the conference that the language around the tourism industry needs to change, specifically to illustrate how it is serving as a public good.

Adirondack Diversity Solutions

Cindy Rodriguez of Adirondack Diversity Solutions discusses her company’s focus on helping organizations create diversity and inclusion strategic planning and improve their recruitment and retention, specifically focused on communities of color. She shares how tourism leaders should have a plan on how to improve diversity, by setting goals and benchmarks and then comparing their organization’s current status with those goals to see where the work needs to be done. She shares why diversity work needs to be a part of your organization’s culture rather than a one-hour event or a once-a-year workshop and why diversity and inclusion needs to be a part of new employee onboarding. She explains why communities of color are underserved within the tourism industry traditionally, and she shares why diversity creates a great opportunity to tap into a new market.

Dr. Donathan Brown from Adirondack Diversity Solutions talks about why it is important for tourism leaders to reimagine how they engage communities, organizations, programs and other aspects of tourism. He discusses a partnership with the Adirondack Experience Museum on Blue Mountain Lake to develop a pipeline experiential learning program for college students to offer them a 10-week summer fellowship to introduce them to the museum world. He explains why it is important to have community outreach programs to discuss the tourism industry from the perspective of travelers as well as tourism professionals. He discusses the importance of being intentional in diversity efforts and to set goals internally before working outward.

Visit Rochester

Greg LaDuca with Visit Rochester discusses why tourism leaders need to reach out to middle managers and others within their organization to give them a voice when discussing inclusion. He shares why having a large group of volunteers brainstorming is helpful for inclusivity work and why it is important for leaders to raise community awareness of their work. He discusses the Visitor Industry Council that Visit Rochester has created, and he shares how their monthly council meetings have between 125-150 people attending them, demonstrating the strong hospitality and tourism industry in the county. He shares why having many people collaborating and working together is a powerful way to create new ideas, and why it is important to be committed and active to reap the rewards of interactions within the industry.

Explore & More Children’s Museum

Jeannine Weber Kahabka with the Explore & More Children’s Museum discusses why inclusivity is core to Explore & More’s mission, creating a diverse and welcoming environment where everyone is welcome to play. She shares how the museum has worked to include diversity into each of the exhibits the museum showcases, reflecting the diverse cultures of the Buffalo and Western New York community. She disucsses how Explore & More’s outreach initiatives connect with people across a 90-minute radius around the museum. She talk about why discussing tourism at the conference has been tremendously helpful, and the economic impact the museum hopes to have across the region surrounding their new location.

Oneida County Tourism

Sarah Foster from Oneida County Tourism talks about the importance of digital outreach and social media, and she shares her enthusiasm for the conference and the opportunity to learn from other organizations. She shares how Oneida County is working to foster community engagement through a county “field trip” day and through partnerships with the local radio station and a young scholars’ group at the local college. She discusses efforts she and her staff are taking to get out into the community more often, and she talks about upcoming efforts to interview local organizations and attractions based upon community votes for who they would like to see interviewed. She shares how she is using the conference as an opportunity to gather ideas and learn new processes that other counties and organizations are creating.

Madden Media

Dan Janes from Madden Media shares how tourism leaders can appeal to and speak directly with diverse communities and bring them into your audience by including them in your digital media initiatives. He shares why it is important to rethink how tourism impacts the community at large and not just focus on tourism and hospitality partners within the community. He explains why focusing on a single statistic of “heads in beds” means not recognizing or acknowledging the other experiences within your community that a tourist will have. He discusses the importance of collaboration and trusting your partners to be working in the best interests of your community.

New York Wine & Grape Foundation

Sam Filler of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation discusses why the wine industry seldom discusses inclusivity despite the importance of the topic, and he shares how his organization is working to improve that track record. He talks about why an organization’s website needs to be as accessible to many different people as possible, such as including Closed Captioning in promotional videos. He discusses how his organization has worked with travel writers of diverse backgrounds to engage diverse audiences. He talks through how his organization is working to improve their consumer research by being more inclusive of audiences such as the LGBT community. He shares why it is important to research your audience and better understand them to improve and reframe your marketing, and why “one size fits all” marketing is less effective than diverse and inclusive marketing targeted to communities.


As my conversations with these industry professionals shows, each of these organizations has recognized the vital part inclusivity plays in expanding their audiences. Each also spoke on the central role travel and tourism leaders have in reshaping the conversation around community engagement, partnerships, and collaboration with others both within and outside the travel industry. In keeping with one of the primary themes of the conference, these organizations show us that tourism truly is everybody’s business.


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