In the summer of 2015, Montauk had reached a breaking point. Public sexcapades in the tiny fishing village were scandalously mentioned in major publications, parking nightmares and noise violations were all too common. Some were afraid that the quaint, family-friendly Montauk they loved and had grown up with was slipping away.
But, over the past two years, Montauk has rolled out a stricter code enforcement on visitor business, which the Montauk Chamber of Commerce says has had a tremendously positive impact. The Chamber recently polled members and learned that in 2016 versus 2015, 70 percent of those polled had experienced up to 10 percent growth.
“Montauk businesses embraced stricter code enforcement after the disruptions in summer 2015 and we wanted to gauge its short- and long-term effect on the tourism economy, our number one industry,” said Laraine Creegan, Executive Director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce. “We’re pleased that the local economy thrived despite negative publicity and a decrease in millennial age visitors from one year to another.”
Creegan credits the Chamber’s targeted outreach to “leave no footprint” visitors, such as families, nature lovers and mature adult travelers – who have as little impact as possible on the communities they visit, as a major reason for the success.
“The targeted visitor campaign achieved 95 percent lodging occupancy in August 2016 and we saw more families and mature travelers than the year before,” explained Creegan. “Nature lovers – surfers, fishermen, trail walkers, beach and ocean lovers – have always been a mainstay.”
Of the 119 poll participants, 17 businesses (14 percent) reported a ten percent or greater increase, 22 businesses (18 percent) said they had a three to ten percent increase, and 44 businesses (37 percent) broke even with last year. Ten businesses (eight percent) noted a decrease of three to ten percent, while 26 businesses (22 percent) said they had a decrease of more than ten percent.
“The business community understands that tourism can only be sustainable if it is carefully managed so that potential negative effects on the Montauk community at large and the environment are not permitted to outweigh the financial benefits,” said Arden Gardell, co-owner of 668 The Gig Shack. “We at the Chamber call it ‘responsible tourism’ and we’re encouraged that it’s working.”
In 2016, the Chamber launched its This Is Montauk campaign that includes three videos, TV and digital ads. Its goal is to portray “The End” as “an authentic vacation spot for families, outdoors and culinary tourists.” Videos that highlight the area’s appeal to families and outdoors enthusiasts were released in 2016, while a film that focuses on Montauk’s draw for foodies will debut this spring.
The campaign has already had a noticeable impact on the area. “The summer of 2016 was serene, young bar-hoppers were subdued and our hospitality businesses adjusted to the desires of visiting families and adults, as well as the community,” shared Bill Mavro, owner of Montauk Clothing Company.
This past January, the Chamber contained its targeted marketing at the New York Times Travel Show – the largest travel consumer and trade show in North America where over 500 destinations and travel suppliers were on hand.
And, a boost in revenue isn’t the only positive effect tourism has on the area. The Chamber notes that tourism allows locals to look back on Montauk’s rich history and cultural heritage, which helps the area stay true to its traditions and culture.
Beloved special events like the Farmers Market, Fall Family Festival, Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Soup Sale and A Taste of Montauk help raise vital funding for Montauk that supports essential organizations such as the Montauk Food Pantry, Friends of Erin and Montauk student scholarships. When the July 4th Fireworks, a summer mainstay, was in jeopardy of being canceled due to lack of funding, the community rallied together to raise the necessary funding. This also seems to be the case for the cherished Lighting of the Lighthouse, which was canceled last year after the Friends of the Lighthouse was unable to come up with the $50,000 that was needed to fund the event. But, the Chamber recently shared on its Facebook page that the holiday tradition will return this year on Saturday November 25th and that Friends of the Lighthouse are in the midst of planning some exciting fundraisers to ensure the festive celebration returns.
“Tourism brings many economic and social benefits to our community,” added Orla Reville, business manager of the Viking Fleet.