View of Cayuga Lake from South Hill, autumn 2018 (Jacob Mroczek)

ITHACA, N.Y. –– The Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability and the Strategic Tourism Planning Board, are seeking input from the public on the first draft of their plan to increase and improve tourism in the future.

The Tompkins County Strategic Tourism Plan “guides the county’s values, goals, and proposed actions regarding tourism through 2027.” County officials are encouraging residents to review the plan and provide feedback.

The Tompkins County Strategic Tourism Planning Board (STPB), in charge of putting the plan together, advises the legislature on matters regarding tourism and on the allocation of the hotel room occupancy tax. In Tompkins County guests of properties with 10 or fewer rooms pay 3% of the room rental fee, and guests of properties with 11 or more rooms pay 5% of the room rental fee. In 2018, the room tax generated $2,924,581 in revenue.

According to Nick Helmholdt, the principal planner and tourism program director, in 2018 the county saw visitors spend $227 million –– an overall tax benefit of $746 per household. Tompkins County attracted an estimated 843,000 visitors in 2009, which was the last time that number was recorded.

The most recent strategic plan has 8 goals to achieve by the end of 2027. The goals include:

  1. Increase average overnight trip length by one night from 2-3 nights to 3-4 nights
  2. Increase average visitor spending by 5% from $366 to $384 per day in established downtowns and villages
  3. Offer indoor and outdoor visitor programming year-round
  4. Increase visual and physical access to Cayuga Lake through collaborative efforts with municipal and private stakeholders
  5. Increase the share of new visitors from 24% to 30%
  6. Provide accurate information to decision makers on legislation and policies that affect tourism
  7. Continuously refine communication techniques and media to grow awareness of our destination and its assets
  8. Foster collaboration among tourism partners to achieve common goals

The goals were identified and the plan was developed with help from the community. According to a press release from the county, there was a community survey, stakeholder meeting with 21 representatives of local nonprofit organizations and “numerous small group meetings” to narrow down the goals for the future. According to STPB, nearly 2,100 visitors also participated in a visitor profile study to get a better idea of who comes to the area.

The plan includes expanding access to Cayuga Lake to boost visitors, says Helmholdt.

“One area that I would highlight is our focus on the waterfront. There seems to be a lot of opportunity there to increase access to the lake and to the water generally,” he said. “It would be a major improvement for us as a destination.”

The proposed conference center included in early plans for the Green Street garage redevelopment could also attract tourists, says Helmholdt.

“That’s something that we believe would have a major impact on the community. Being able to bring visitors here especially in times of the week when we don’t currently have a lot of demand, our Sunday through Wednesday timeframe.”

Feedback can be submitted online by Nov. 11.

Correction: A previous version of this story read The Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability and the Strategic Tourism Planning Board, in partnership with the Tompkins County Department of Planning. Department of Planning should not have been included. 

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at