Area tourism officials discuss guidelines, impacts

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On Wednesday, regional tourism officials talked logistics of opening large scale events this spring and summer in the wake of new guidelines from the state easing some COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

Among the newest state guidelines for gatherings and events, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that events could be held as long as a 500-person limit is maintained.

If the congregate size exceeds 500 people outdoors, then all attendees over the age of 4 must present proof of full vaccination status or recent negative COVID-19 test and the required social distancing of 6 feet between patrons must be maintained.

While the regulations have opened possibility for some, it has led to some events like Honor America Days in Rome, the Woodsmen’s Field Days in Boonville, and the Remsen Barn Festival of the Arts being canceled this summer because crowd capacity would be too difficult to manage.

On Wednesday, Mark Donovan, of the Boilermaker Road Race said during a Regional Tourism Forum hosted by The Genesis Group, that plans are being made to hopefully bring the event back to Utica this year, but staff are looking at capacity issues and trying to figure out how an impactful event can be had which is typically a large draw.

Also during the forum, Oneida County Tourism Director Kelly Blazosky spoke to the state’s Excelsior Pass program and how it might become a component of event going. Use of the pass is voluntary, but allows users to upload their vaccination and testing information that can be shown for entry to an event.

“Businesses and venues can scan and validate your pass to ensure you meet any COVID-19 vaccination or testing requirements for entry. Along with your Pass, you’ll be asked to show a photo ID that shows your name and birth date to verify that the Pass belongs to you. Adults may hold passes for accompanying minors,” reads information on a state website. For more information, visit ny.gov/excelsiorpass

Among other speakers at the Wednesday virtual tourism forum were Joel Barkin, spokesperson for the Oneida Indian Nation.

Barkin noted that while closed last year for the first time in 28 years of operation, the Turning Stone Resort and Casino took the opportunity to complete renovations on its entertainment, wedding, restaurant and meeting spaces. “We are poised to have a great year,” he said, noting that travel bookings are up.

There is one looming obstacle though. Barkin and Kelly Greene of Enchanted Forest Resort both noted that finding staff is challenging right now.

For Greene, trying to find staff for the resort June 18 opening is being limited by international college students possibly not being able to fill slots they typically would due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions. Greene also said that the latest crowd capacity regulations rolled out by the state has left them with questions about where at the waterpark should people be masked and socially distant.

When the park opens this year, patrons can enjoy new slide additions — Serengeti Stampede, a 293 foot slide; Mamba Strike, a 285 foot body tube slide and Killermanjaro Revenge, a 207 foot dropslide.

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