CANANDAIGUA, NY – Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, the official tourism promotion agency for Ontario County, has produced an online Digital Recovery Tool Kit to help small businesses understand the reopening guidelines and put them into practice. The Tool Kit is designed as a resource center for the tourism industry to reopen, restart, and reinvent their businesses in tandem with the easing and lifting of governmental stay-at-home and business restriction orders.
Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, along with Denise Chaapel from the Canandaigua Downtown Business Improvement District and Kathy Rayburn from the Victor Local Development Corporation, teamed up to help local tourism and hospitality businesses navigate the intricacies of reopening.
Known as the Rapid, Response, Recovery Team, the group created an Industry Resource Center on the VisitFingerLakes.com webpage to aggregate, clarify and simplify all the advisements coming from New York state. It includes templates for a safe reopening, connection to NY Forward, a help/idea sheet, employer obligations, documents on customer perceptions and specific sector and subsectors of information. It was meant to be an “idea bank of creative solutions to meet requirements to reopen.”
A weekly Tool Kit development update meeting is held every Tuesday, overviewing any happenings since the last meeting, highlighting new contributions to the tool kit and answering questions that have been received. The next meeting will be held Tuesday, June 9 at 8:30 am. A registration link can be found at VisitFingerLakes.com/Reopen.
In April, Finger Lakes Visitors Connection surveyed the Ontario County tourism industry to gauge the sentiment of the industry. As a result, the tourism bureau began to hold industry segment Zoom calls to give each sector of the industry a chance to talk with each other, share challenges and offer assistance to each other, and over 100 tourism “thought leaders” came together to create this Digital Toolkit.
“I wanted to ensure that we weren’t running around like chickens with our heads cut off, duplicating efforts and accentuating our frustrations,” said Valerie Knoblauch, president and CEO of Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, of the plan to pull the tourism sector together. “I knew we could work together – I knew we’d be stronger together.”
The Digital Toolkit was designed to curate, interpret and simplify all the advisements that were coming from various tourism sector associations, and make them easier to understand and accessible for anyone looking for guidance on how to open in the region.
The Digital Toolkit is housed on the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection website at VisitFingerLakes.com/Reopen and categorizes information in relevant sub-sectors of tourism, hospitality and small business. The site includes templates for a safe reopening and an idea bank of creative solutions to meet requirements to reopen.
Ontario County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Marren and Interim County Administrator Brian Young had asked the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection team to help with the reopening plan for the county.
Knoblauch said it was important to create a team approach to reopening by collaborating with business leaders in Canandaigua, Victor and Geneva. She said the newly formed Rapid, Response, Recovery Team was compiled of industry “warriors.”
“These were the people who stood up as leaders and wanted to work with us to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever. Over 150 thought leaders from 6 counties (Wayne County, Yates County Chamber, Livingston County Chamber, Cayuga County Office of Tourism), along with business representatives of Monroe, Seneca, and Schuyler and local town and city officials, joined us as we crafted the Digital Recovery Toolkit.”
Knoblauch has also been working with Geneva City Manager Sage Gerling to share resources via Ontario County’s Digital Recovery Tool Kit and offering resources to help businesses reopen. She recently took part in the city’s livestream topic Reopening Businesses. Guests included Knoblauch, along with Raul Fuentes, owner of Creator’s Touch Barbershop in Downtown Geneva; Michael Mills, director of Geneva’s Business Improvement District and Neal Braman, development services manager for the City of Geneva.
“There was just too much information to sift through, so we knew we needed resource experts – those small business owners who could help with the nuances of each segment,” said Knoblauch. “We assembled valuable resources and experts in areas just to answer questions like ‘Where do I get XYZ?’ or ‘How do I clean XYZ?’ Share with us how are gyms/hotels/restaurants are doing it.”
While the Rapid, Response, Recovery Team continued its work, the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection’s team supported Ontario County tourism in other ways, including:
- Supporting County Administrator Brian Young and Ontario County by curating videos from local school districts. The inspirational videos showed teachers, coaches and students touting the need for social distancing as well as offering uplifting messages for their students and friends. The videos were posted on the Ontario County, Ontario County Public Health, and the Visitors Connection’s social media pages.
- Producing an online blog, “Your Growing Guide of Things to Do During Physical Distancing.” The guide highlighted opportunities to spend quality time at home with family that you don’t usually have. The blog was published on the Ontario County, Ontario County Public Health, and the Visitors Connection’s social media pages. It was also available in Spanish.
- Curating a list of Ontario County restaurants offering takeout, curbside pick-up or delivery at VisitFingerLakes.com/FLXtogo. The page quickly became one of our highest viewed pages. Virtual Adventures from Your Living Room,” a curated list of many Ontario County attractions and adventures to enjoy right from your living room, was also highlighted there.
- Revamping the VisitFingerLakes.com homepage “buckets” and updated curbside options to include retail.
- Creating an FLX Activity Guide. The guide is a growing piece that reminds folks to get out and have fun (socially distant, of course) and explore all Ontario County has to offer. Plus, you’ll have FUN doing it!
“The Ontario County tourism industry is strong and resilient, and so is the region,” said Knoblauch. "They’ve worked diligently to find create ways to serve the public, they’ve banded together, and they have been open to new ideas and new normals. We are proud of our industry, our county officials and the locals who have been patiently waiting for our industry to reopen. We are so proud to call Ontario County home.”