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New president outlines vision for Oneida County Tourism

By Traci DeLore (tdelore@cnybj.com)

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Sarah Foster Calero, president of Oneida County Tourism. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

UTICA, N.Y. — New to the role of president at the Convention and Visitors Bureau for Oneida County, which does business as Oneida County Tourism, Sarah Foster Calero isn’t new to the organization.

Calero, who took over as president on July 1, marked 13 years with the tourism organization in October.

She’s the first to acknowledge her new role is “totally different” from what she’s done in the past, but Calero says she is up to the challenge and brimming with ideas for the organization and for tourism in Oneida County.

First up is strategic planning for Oneida County Tourism (OCT), something that hasn’t been done in about eight years, Calero says. Previous plans were sidelined by the pandemic, so it’s past time to update OCT’s strategic vision for the next several years.

“We will in December deploy a survey,” she says. The survey will go out to stakeholders across the county, and OCT is working with Young Strategies, Inc. on the project. The Charlotte, North Carolina company specializes in research and strategic planning for the travel industry.

Once the data collected from the survey is analyzed, OCT can start strategizing and develop a plan for the next four to five years, Calero says.

“It’s really going to show us what are our strengths, show us what are our weaknesses,” she notes.

Even more immediate than strategic planning, Oneida County Tourism is moving, Calero says. The organization has been housed in a county-owned building near New York State Thruway exit 31 for all of its almost 40 years of existence. The problem, Calero says, is that the office is really hard to get to — unless you are exiting the Thruway there.

To make OCT a little more accessible to visitors and residents alike, one person will be moving to Union Station in the Bagg’s Square area. Along with serving as the area’s train and bus station, the surrounding area is in the midst of a revitalization that brings more people there, Calero says. It just makes sense to have someone from OCT there to make information and materials available.

The remaining three staff members, including Calero, are moving into the Oneida County Office Building at 800 Park Avenue. This puts OCT closer to a variety of stakeholders, Calero says.

“I’m working with my board and with the county to foster those relationships,” and create synergies, she says. “We all ultimately have the same goals.”

The goal is to promote Oneida County as a tourist destination. From nature hotspots like the Adirondacks to sports hubs like the Utica University Nexus Center, there is something for everyone.

“This is the first year where I think we’re starting to see that impact on the community,” Calero says of the Nexus Center. 

Next April, the Nexus Center and neighboring Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Auditorium play host to the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Cup Championship, which will bring 10 international ice-hockey teams for 29 games over the course of 11 days.

“That should be over 60,000 people that come,” into Oneida County for that event, Calero says. OTC is looking at ways to partner with Oneida County and the Nexus Center to make sure all those visitors have information on places where they can eat, shop, and visit while they’re in town.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in Oneida County, and I hope people recognize that,” she says. “I do.”

Other initiatives Calero is looking at include partnering with local colleges to help out with things like student recruitment and family weekends, making sure everyone knows what the area has to offer.

She’d also like to start a localized marketing campaign to build awareness for the agency and the area and is considering a rebrand for OTC to streamline its brand and focus.

Calero is also working on her own professional development, working her way toward her Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) credential, which is the tourism industry’s highest individual educational achievement.

The training is helping her fill gaps where she did not gain experience in her previous roles at OTC, which included director of group sales, director of sales, director of media relations, and director of communications.       

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