When James Oddo announced the launch of Staten Island’s Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs last summer, the Borough President made clear his mission of contributing to the Island’s growing hospitality sector. Placing great importance on borough-wide marketing efforts and earmarking city funds to help goad visitors off the ferry and into our local businesses and cultural centers, the office took on the responsibility of analyzing visitor habits and making any needed improvements to the Island’s tourism industry.
“What we were hearing from visitors was that they had no idea what Staten Island had to offer,” noted Jennifer Sammartino, who serves as Oddo’s director of tourism and cultural affairs. “We knew we had to do a better job of educating the 2 million tourists who ride the ferry each year and help them discover what our borough has to offer.”
So the office began meeting regularly with small business owners and leaders of local cultural organizations.
“We wanted to meet and talk about why tourists are not getting off of the ferry and coming upland,” Sammartino said. “Our research told us that most New York City visitors are repeat tourists. So they’ve done Broadway. They’ve done downtown and Times Square. And whether they’re American or international visitors they are willing and excited to see other things. We just needed to figure out how to advertise the appeal of this outer borough.”
Sammartino’s office immediately started rebranding www.visitstatenisland.com, the borough’s 10-year-old website that will be relaunched this fall as an official guide to Staten Island museums, parks, historic sites and theaters. The Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs also started working closely with the Chamber of Commerce and Destination St. George to promote all of the new developments cropping up on the North Shore.
“The opening of Empire Outlets in November is estimated to drive ferry ridership from 2 million tourists annually to 6 or 7 million,” Sammartino said. “So we are taking full advantage of that opportunity, creating new marketing campaigns and signage to introduce new visitors to our borough.”
And Sammartino says attractions like the Lighthouse Museum, 9/11 Postcards and Snug Harbor Cultural Center are already seeing a significant increase in foot traffic.
“All of those attractions are less than a 10- or 15-minute walk from the Ferry terminal or just a quick bus ride away so they are very easy to access and find,” Sammartino said. “And each location offers a range of things to explore: Snug Harbor is now offering History and Mysteries tours and a new aquarium is coming to the Staten Island Zoo. Our cultural organizations are working hard to stay current and offer the very best experience to their guests.”
On the South Shore, Historic Richmond Town is now offering ghost tours and tavern concerts and has created quite a buzz with the addition of Egger’s Ice Cream Shop. Every Thursday this summer, Valducci’s food truck was stationed in the cultural center’s parking lot and on Fridays, Flagship served pints to patrons.
“They’ve created some really amazing experiences at Historic Richmond Town this summer,” Sammartino said. “Great music was offered by local bands, food was offered by different restaurants. For years they’ve been well known for their BBQ festival, chili cook-off and Uncorked event which really put them on the NYC tourism map, but this summer they have really thrown their doors open, offering more after-hours activities. Islanders and visitors are really loving it.”
The Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs is making use of social media to announce those types of events: Sammartino and company use Facebook Live regularly to promote what local organizations are doing.
“We’re seeing hundreds and sometimes thousands of views,” Sammartino said. “We’ve found that social media is an incredible tool for promoting tourism and we will continue to make use of it in the future.”
And Sammartino says there are plenty of new and exciting tourism projects on the horizon.
“The St. George Theatre is now offering tours by appointment, which is a wonderful opportunity for visitors to learn about the history, architecture and design of that beautiful building,” she concluded. “And there’s so much more in store. There are so many wonderful experiences for tourists and residents in this borough. And those experiences are only continuing to grow.”