North Country
8:17 am
Thu April 26, 2012

A North Country Tourism Program Looks For Funds

Tourism is seen as one of the economic underpinnings of the North Country.

But a highly touted program designed to boost tourism is running low on funds while facing a tricky question: After spending about $1 million was it successful?

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

 

In 2008  - with the paper industry pretty much dead -  some in the North Country gloomily wondered about its economic prospects.

So, the non-profit Northern Community Investment Corporation decided to see whether more could be done to promote tourism.

It hired a tourism-consulting firm from Seattle to research the North Country with the focus on Coos.

Its mandate was to come up with a brand that could be used to draw tourists.

What they unveiled a year later was the concept of grand adventures --experiences so exceptional that tourists would be drawn way north of the notches.

Audio of dogs barking…

They included the dog-sled rides, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s high-mountain huts, snowmobiling from Jefferson to Pittsburg, ATVs, white-water rafting, Tuckerman Ravine and the Cog Railway.

Audio of the Cog whistle blowing…

The spotlight was also shown on the grand old hotels, the Balsams, The Mountain View Grand and the Mount Washington.

The idea was to get visitors to linger, spend money at hotels, gas stations and restaurants. Lots of people would get a boost.

The boost for the Seattle consultants was about $690,000.

Factor in the NH Grand Website, salaries, promotional materials and the programs cost was about $1 million.

No state or local money was spent.

It came from federal funds or grants including about one-half million from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund.

“At the current rate of spending we have enough funds for six months, somewhere between four and six months.”

That’s Cathy Conway, an official with the Northern Community Investment Corporation.

“It is a crucial point and it is a point at which we need to make this a self-sustaining program.”

That means coming up with an annual budget of about $150,000.

Conway says one trust is offering $35,000 if matching funds can be found elsewhere.

By early this month about $25,000 has been raised.

There’s a hope tourism businesses will also pony up.

But asking for money raises the question of whether New Hampshire Grand has helped?

And, figuring that out isn’t easy. But there are some things to consider.

New Hampshire Grand says its web site has seen more traffic.

During roughly the first year there were about 50,000 page views.

In the second year the number of page views almost tripled.

One way to look for an increase in tourism is the state’s rooms and meals tax.

Cathy Conway did that. She says she analyzed the figures from 2008 through 2010 for Coos County, the core of the North Country. Its average growth was about 10 percent, more than any county in the state.

But she says New Hampshire Grand alone can’t take the credit.

“I think there are a lot of factors that are responsible for this increase. I’d like to think that New Hampshire Grand is one of those factors. We are the only sort of county-based organization.”

Plymouth State University also tracks tourism.

It found during fiscal 2011 – which would have included the first full year of New Hampshire Grand - spending by tourists in Coos totaled about $71.5 million.

That was up $9.5 million – or about 15 percent - over the previous year.  That was more than any other county.

Again it isn’t clear how much of the credit goes to the improving economy, promotions by individual businesses or New Hampshire Grand.

While attracting tourist dollars was the goal New Hampshire Grand has provided another benefit, according to a 2011 study by UNH’s Carsey Institute.

Sociology professor Michele Dillon – who did the study - says Coos has a history of diverse and separate communities.

But she found New Hampshire Grand has gotten them to work together something that is vital in rural counties for solving all sorts of problems.

And the program has won over some skeptics.

“It seems they are listening and trying to do something to help us.”

That’s Bing Judd. He sits on the Coos County commission, which in 2009 refused to sign on to application seeking 3.5 million dollars in stimulus money for NH grand.

Fellow commissioner Paul Grenier was also leery.

He thought the initiative focused too much on promoting the Grand Hotels, but feels its goals are broader now.

“I think finally that they are going on the right track and I think it should deserve the full support of everyone involved.”

And whether that support materializes will decide how, if at all, NH Grand continues.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen