Viewpoint: Blakeman’s push on Nassau tourism is about self-promotion

Viewpoint: Blakeman’s push on Nassau tourism is about self-promotion
Karen Rubin, Columnist

It’s with pride that Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman calls himself the “CEO of marketing” for the county. When he came to office, he declared COVID banished from the county (“We’ve returned to normal”) despite the uptick in the Omnicron variant because it was bad for business. His tenure in office has been one of one photo op after another, one ribbon-cutting and proclamation after another. And now, he has seized on the ability to control $15 million in self-promotion money by taking control of tourism promotion.

The pilot test for this project was the $600,000 in federal COVID relief funds to pay for a series of county tourism promotion commercials starring Blakeman. The ad, with the tagline “Nassau County: Golden Coast to Coast,” aired in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, upstate New York and the metropolitan area as well as on Newsmax, the right-wing news channel. Instead of “visit Nassau County” the tag line might as well have been “Elect me. Donate here.”

And instead of spending the $10 million in federal pandemic relief funding on public safety or public health, he is handing it over to the Ed Moore Advertising to promote the county’s 125th anniversary galas and World Cricket tournament. These might as well be billed as campaign events, just as Blakeman attempted to do with the Chapin concert addressing Long Island hunger at Eisenhower Park last summer (canceled after musicians pulled out because of his blatant self-promotion).

“It is the latest glaring example of how County Executive Blakeman is continuing to exploit federal recovery funds to promote himself and feed his own ego instead of meeting the needs of Nassau County’s residents,” remarked Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Delia DeRiggi-Whitton.

Now, he is pulling control of nearly $5 million in tourism promotion funding over four years from the professional tourism promotion, non-profit entity, Discover Long Island, and handing it to a smalltime, home-based for-profit marketing agency, RRDA, to promote Nassau on its own. After 45 years of jointly promoting Long Island as a destination, Nassau County will have to pay to teach the world that Nassau isn’t the Bahamas or Florida, and why it is better to visit Jones Beach than the Hamptons. No one outside of the metropolitan area knows there is such a place as Nassau County, but they do know Long Island as a world-class destination.

Tourism is not a frivolous activity, but one of Long island’s biggest industries, employers and generators of municipal funding. In 2022, tourism spending on Long Island hit a record $6.6 billion – a $2 billion increase since 2016 when the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, rebranded as Discover Long Island, sustained 100,000 local jobs and generated $800 million in local and state tax revenues. Every community, from Cape Cod to Carmel, knows the value and competition for tourism, which is why each has a professional tourism promotion agency.

“Long Island is the brand that visitors understand and once they visit, they can find a wealth of information on specific and individual businesses, communities and counties,” said Courtney Guiry, public relations and digital communications manager for Discover Long Island.

“Over 45 years we have developed deep skills and relationships specific to tourism businesses, conventions, international visitors, and sporting events. We have 11 different social media channels with an audience of over 10 million globally. Discover Long Island is known as a leader in the tourism industry nationwide.”

Discover Long Island’s budget is $6 million, generated from 16% of the 3% hotel/motel tax collected. Nassau County’s share is about $1 million a year. So instead of having a $6 million budget to entice vacationers, business travelers, event and convention goers to Long Island, Nassau will have only $1 million – a pittance in terms of tourism promotion spending.

Moreover, the county’s decision to go it alone “sets up a situation where Nassau County and Suffolk County are working against each other — and that’s confusing to the customer who knows Long Island but not necessarily the individual counties,” Reynolds stated, adding that a 2017 poll of tourists found 42% had visited Long Island but only 10% could identify Nassau or Suffolk.

Indeed, when you Google “Visit Nassau” you get dozens of links to Nassau, Bahamas and a link to “Nassau County Inmate Visitation”. If you are persistent, you may find “Visit Nassau-Nassau County, NY Official Site” where you are greeted with (what else?) Blakeman’s smiling visage.

The decision to dump the nonprofit tourism promotion agency, Discover Long Island, for a tiny for-profit content marketing agency raises questions about the who, how and why RRDA LI LLC was selected.

Despite the RFP requiring tourism promotion experience, RRDA could offer no actual experience in destination marketing or promotion, tourism promotion orpromoting Nassau County. Indeed, the business address for RRDA is actually the Glen Head home of the business owner, Jaime Hollander, who lists previous employment at Conde Nast and Better Homes & Gardens.

How did she get the RFP? Hollander said she listed her agency, incorporated in 2019, as a woman-owned business on Nassau County’s website and was sent the RFP by Christopher Boyle, Blakeman’s spokesman. Selection among the seven that responded to the RFP was made by a committee headed by County Parks Commissioner Darcy A. Belyea, who is overseeing the contract.

Where does Nassau now get its visitors? What markets will you be pursuing? The committee wants to understand “not just the sentiments of locals in Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, but high value tourists coming here” and where they are getting their travel information.

As a for-profit, though, I would imagine what isn’t spent from the $1 million on promoting Nassau is profit.

But I would suspect that Blakeman knows exactly which markets to spend money in, based on his $600,000 campaign: they are the pockets of Republican donors, where he can raise his visibility to prime a run for higher office – perhaps governor, perhaps U.S. senator.

Questions posed to Blakeman’s spokesman Christopher Boyle went unanswered.

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  1. To KAREN RUBIN: Your obvious partisan attack containing multiple half truths, is a sad display of your lack of journalistic ethics.

  2. Madelyn: Please, indicate what’s not true.

    Further, do you think this is the best way to spend relief dollars? Wouldn’t you be suspicious about a random person with no experience suddenly getting such a big contract?


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