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ITHACA, NY – Tourism is a powerful economic tool in Ithaca and Tompkins County. Often, the impact that conferences and meetings have on the local economy is overlooked. So are the individuals who invest their own time in coordinating those efforts. The Tompkins Tourism Partner Award changes that.

The award is presented annually to individuals and organizations who are not professional meeting or event planners but who devote time and effort to bring groups to Tompkins County that result in more than 400 room nights at local lodging establishments. On December 15th, the Tompkins County Legislature presented awards to two local groups for their efforts.

Between October 11th and 14th of this year, Cornell University’s College of Ag & Life Sciences (CALS) hosted the 2nd International Conference on Global Food Security, bringing hundreds of researchers from around the globe to Ithaca for state-of-the-art analysis, inspiring visions and innovative methods arising from research in a wide range of disciplines related to food security.

Conference co-chair Professor Chris Barrett and CALS staff members Anna Hammond and Craig Ryan received Tourism Partner Awards for their efforts. Mary Rachun from the Ithaca Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau was also recognized for her work to help convince conference organizers that Ithaca was the best fit for this major conference and for coordination and planning of transportation to ensure a flawless event.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) has hosted the New York State High School Girls’ Swimming and Diving Championships at Ithaca College’s Athletics and Event Center for the past four years. It’s a huge gathering of student athletes and their families and results each November in at least 800 hotel room nights. It is led by Diane Hicks-Hughes, Aquatics Director for the Lansing Central School District, who received the award for her efforts.

Legislators Mike Lane and Martha Robertson presented the recipients with framed certificates. “CALS and the NY Public High School Athletic Association set out to host their events. In doing so here in Ithaca they also helped generate thousands of dollars in visitor spending and many businesses have prospered due to their events. They are fine examples of what it means to be a Tourism Partner,” said Lane. He also invited other local residents to consider inviting the associations of which they are members to meet in Tompkins County.

Statler Hotel General Manager and former Strategic Tourism Planning Board (STPB) member Richard Adie first proposed the award after observing two local residents plan and execute a large event commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in 2005. The award was created by the STPB shortly after. “I recognized that there was a significant financial impact to the community as a result of their work,” Adie said.

“Neither was a professional meeting planner but they both felt enough pride in their community to want to share it with their colleagues, despite the extra work. These individuals were making a positive impact on the local tax base and employment, and we are pleased to have been able to create a way to recognize them and others like them for their efforts.”

Besides Alpha Phi Alpha, eight other groups or individuals have received Tourism Partner Awards since 2006.  Tourism Partner Awards are commemorated with engraved stone pavers at a trailhead of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail.

Tourism Economics, an economic research firm which has studied the local tourism economy, estimates that tourism had an annual economic impact of $190 million in Tompkins County in 2014 and generated around $14 million in local taxes. Tourism also employs 3,500 people in the County.

Bruce Stoff, Director of the Ithaca Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau touted the direct economic benefit that meetings, conferences and events generate for taxpayers. “As an example, a conference brings 400 people to Tompkins County for three days. Conference attendees who stay in hotels spend an average of $335 per day, resulting in a positive economic impact of $401,000. That translates into $16,080 in local sales tax – revenue that local governments can use to better fund existing programs and new initiatives, reduce the tax levy, or a combination of the three.”

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.