The coronavirus pandemic has put a big hit on tourism, which is big business in Cattaraugus County and throughout Western New York.
Millions in sales tax and bed tax revenues for the county and its municipalities have been lost over the past five months.
With New York closed to Canadians, many out-of-state visitors required to quarantine for two weeks and scores of events canceled, tourism has a long road back in the Southern Tier.
How will the region safely bring back tourism without out-of-state and Canadian visitors?
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul has held two tourism roundtables in Western New York in recent days — one last week in Niagara Falls and another Tuesday at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown.
Participants shared what they are doing to bring people back to tourism destinations and suggested things the state can do to help.
One thing being encouraged is the “staycation,” Hochul said in an interview with the Olean Times Herald on Wednesday. “I’m encouraging people to explore their own backyard. The Southern Tier, which has some amazing attractions, is well positioned for this.”
With New York’s largest park, Allegany State Park in the Southern Tier’s backyard, a weekend getaway is always close by. “With all the cleaning protocols they are taking, the cabins are safe. It’s a great place to be socially distanced and safe.”
Hochul said during this time when New York must restrict visitors from several states and Canada “we’ve got 19 million New Yorkers looking for things to do. Cattaraugus County is well-placed (for) that.”
Hochul ticked off a long list of attractions in Cattaraugus County besides the state park: Zoar Valley, Ellicottville, Griffis Sculpture Park, the Salamanca Rail Museum and others.
The lieutenant governor also praised the National Comedy Center as “a globally recognized attraction in our own backyard” that area residents can visit. The coronavirus pandemic closed the center until recently.
“I want to promote the region and all the great attractions, including Downtown Olean,” Hochul said. “The streetscape is so vibrant. It looks fabulous, like a charming little New England town. You can get great meals inside or sitting on the sidewalk at the Beef N Barrel. It’s a very energetic vibe.”
Addressing the “devastating effect the coronavirus is having on state revenue as well as local and county revenues,” Hochul said she was “very concerned as far as continued funding for essential services.”
The answer lies in Washington, Hochul said. “Congress has the opportunity to to help us recoup” lost revenues and help pay for the coronavirus response. New York, she said, lost $14 billion in revenue and spent an extra $5 billion fighting COVID-19.
“We need people like Rep. Tom Reed” to use his influence with Republican senators to include state and local coronavirus relief,” Hochul said.
“We’re calling on all six Republicans in the New York congressional delegation to start fighting for New York,” she said. The Senate bill does not include any money for state and local governments.
“If Republicans continue down this road, they will own it (state and local government financial distress). “We are asking for their help.”
The Democrat-controlled House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act nearly 10 weeks ago. It included state and local government funding as well as maintaining the $600 a week federal unemployment bonus and another stimulus check for Americans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s $1 trillion coronavirus relief bill includes another stimulus check for Americans, but only a $200 a week federal bonus for the unemployed, down from the current $600 a week.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also renewed his call Wednesday that state and local governments need financial help from Congress just to maintain important municipal and public-safety services.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)