Marketing district proposed to help support tourism

Legislation is being drafted at the state level aimed at creating a Peconic Region Tourism Marketing District that would join the five East End Towns, should they choose to participate, in a tourism promotion effort.

It’s supported by Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and Sen. Ken Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson), said Bryan Deluca, who heads the East End Tourism Alliance and is general manager of Atlantis Holdings, which owns the Long Island Aquarium and Hyatt Hotel in Riverhead.

“Transportation is the main thrust of this,” he said.

Such marketing districts are becoming more common around the country, Mr. Deluca said. They work by collecting either a percentage or fixed amount, perhaps $1 or $2, for each overnight night stay at a hotel, motel, Bed and breakfast or other lodging business, he said. Each town participating in the district would have a representative who would outline how its portion of funds could be used to support tourism, he explained, adding that it’s similar to how Suffolk County collects a hotel/motel tax, a portion of which goes to support tourism promotion.

Southold Town Board members said that before commenting on or expressing support for the idea, they want to get a sense of whether local lodging operators would be on board with a new fee.

“The one thing that I think needs to be discussed here is where is the consensus from the industry,” Supervisor Scott Russell said. He said he’s received messages from a handful of business owners who say they oppose the idea or feel they don’t have enough information about it.

The legislation to permit a marketing district is non-binding for the town and does not require a town resolution or formal endorsement at this stage, but Mr. Thiele wanted towns to give some input, Mr. Deluca said. It’s simply to create a marketing district, he said. Town supervisors from Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Riverhead have indicated support for the legislation to move forward, he said.

“I think, at this point, we don’t have an opinion,” Councilwoman Jill Doherty said.

Mr. Russell said his answer right now is to “step back and wait” to hear from businesses.

It has nothing to do with the merits of the idea, Mr. Russell said. During his “State of the Town” address earlier this month, the supervisor said that the town itself, as government, needs to get out of funding the tourism industry. While the marketing district is a convenient way of passing on the responsibility, the industry that will be directly affected by a marketing district fee needs to be heard from, he said.

Dave Perrin, vice president of the Mattituck Chamber of Commerce, said he agreed that “our residents should not have any burden in tourism,” and said he will continue outreach to lodging establishments so they are informed about what the taxing district entails.

Photo caption: Bryan Deluca (center), head of the East End Tourism Alliance, said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session that tourism marketing districts are becoming popular around the country. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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