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Region’s attractions have worldwide appeal

OBSERVER Photo Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul led a discussion with a number of county destinations on Tuesday. At left is Journey Gunderson, executive director of the National Comedy Center.

JAMESTOWN — New York state Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was in a unique position during a stop in this south county city earlier this week. During a roundtable discussion, she was surrounded by seven individuals who represented Chautauqua County destinations that are world-renowned — and sometimes overlooked because they are right in our back yard.

“Tourism is such a major critical industry,” she said in addressing members of the media following the gathering that took place in the National Comedy Center on Tuesday. Besides the center, representatives from Chautauqua Institution, the Robert H. Jackson Center, Panama Rocks, the New York State Parks department, Webb’s Year-Round Resort and Captain’s Table Restaurant and the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau participated in the discussion.

Though all who were in attendance were upbeat, each was quite open about the challenges being faced due to the coronavirus. Chautauqua Institution, as an example, is doing all of its programming virtually.

While this is allowing viewers from 52 countries unprecedented access to the Institution, it also helps boost our region for future getaways.

“By the end of the summer, we will have transported out across the globe more than 1,000 programs keeping all of our nine theme weeks,” said Michael Hill, Institution president. “We also believe it is the best free advertising for Chautauqua County ever because we’re weaving in photos and things that we hope that when we are able to return … that more and more people will come to participate in our various organizations.”

Hochul’s stop here was part of an important mission. Small businesses that rely on tourists throughout the state, especially in the warmer climate, are facing serious challenges. Last week, she began her regional visits in Niagara Falls.

Traffic there is not at a standstill, but it’s much slower than previous summers. Looking across the border in Canada, it’s a much different story. It is slower due to the stricter guidelines in regard to distancing and capacity with some of the attractions.

Canadians, as demonstrated by how things have played out with Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays forced to play in Buffalo, are taking the COVID-19 scare much more seriously than their neighbors to the south. They also do not believe this country is doing everything needed to quell the virus.

That is a debate that will continue to play out in the national media for the months to come. Here at home, however, we have a luxury in the wonders that are around us.

Andrew Nixon of the county Visitors Bureau spoke about the outdoor gems that fill our region. Besides the major lakes of Erie and Chautauqua, there’s also the smaller, yet significant waters of Cassadaga, Bear Lake and Findley.

Even farther south is another regional masterpiece, the Allegheny National Forest. While this national treasure was not part of the New York state debate, Pennsylvania officials say there has been plenty of demand for kayaking, canoeing, hiking and camping.

As many worry about the potential hazards that abound on the interior, there’s no question this is the summer of the great outdoors. That being said, those ancillary indoor businesses that rely on visitors, such as hotels and restaurants, have to take as many precautions as possible to provide a welcoming and secure environment. “Obviously we’ve opened some of these great attractions … so there are ways to figure it out by keeping people distanced in a safe way,” Hochul noted.

She also had a significant message for all of Chautauqua County, which had been recently growing business and momentum, especially in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area. “I think what’s important is that there not be a distinction between the northern part of the county and the southern part,” she said. “The synergies have to be coexistent. One area cannot do better than the other.

“It’s similar to New York state. It shouldn’t be upstate and downstate because we are one balance sheet, one identity. It’s the same with Chautauqua County. … A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Keeping that optimistic tone, Hochul had a message for many across the state during and after the roundtable discussions. Once we’re past the problematic virus and able to get back to some normalcy, these major attractions will be in high demand.

“For people who want that quiet visit to Chautauqua County, this is the summer because next year it’s going to really take off,” the lieutenant governor said. “That’s my prediction.”

John D’Agostino is the regional editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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