Belfast travel agents tout region

In December a tour operator and several travel agents from Belfast, Northern Ireland visited the Hudson Valley with the hope of establishing a reciprocal arrangement with their counterparts in the tourism industry in the Hudson Valley. The group made stops at various local locations; the Stoutridge Winery, Frieda’s Bakery, the Falcon Music Club, the Guarino Farm and the Hudson Ale Works as well as numerous locations in Dutchess County. On their first night in the states the group stayed at the Danskammer House, a newly opened Bed & Breakfast near the hamlet of Marlboro.

B.J. Mikkelsen, Milton tour operator/owner of Great Dane Journeys, helped to set up the visit from Ireland. He said the pitch was to have the Belfast-based Travel Solutions market the region to their agents who in turn would entice customers to visit, not just New York City, but also many of the attractions in the Hudson Valley.

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Belfast tourist agents visit Stoutridge Winery in Marlboro.

Sheila Mannese, of Meet Me in Marlborough, said the agri-tourism organization wants to promote the Hudson Valley as a destination point that is within easy reach of the Big Apple.

“The immediate thing is to get off the plane and head down to New York City and with this happening, they (tour operators) want it to go north and we are right on that border,” she said.
Mikkelsen and Mannese said this across-the-ocean tourism idea received the support of Markly Wilson, Director of International Marketing for I Love New York, a division of state’s tourism agency. After meeting last summer at Mikkelsen’s annual bonfire that he hosts at his home in Marlborough and later touring the area, Wilson was sold. He soon brought in tourism promoter Christine Hoffer, of MRH Select, to help coordinate the visit of the Belfast group.

Mannese said Wilson “has given Meet Me in Marlborough the opportunity to finally get out there as far as tourism is concerned.” Mikkelsen added that having Norwegian Airlines flying from Ireland and Scotland into nearby Stewart Airport is a key factor in the plan. After Mikkelsen and his neighbor Oscar Hollenbeck, who is the Chief Operating Officer of the airport, took a vacation to Norway using Norwegian Airlines, a deal was struck that gave certain concessions to the airline to offer inexpensive international flights to and from Ireland and Scotland. A $34 million modernization and expansion plan of Stewart Airport to accommodate more international flights has been announced by the Governor.

Mannese said in January Meet Me in Marlborough will be reaching out to many more area businesses, casting a wider net beyond Marlborough to capitalize on this recent momentum to promote tourism locally and internationally. The organization can be reached at 845-616-7824.

“This is huge for our area,” she said, with Mikkelsen adding “and Belfast is just the first.”
Mikkelsen said he has taken a renewed interest in promoting the Hudson River Valley because its history, beauty and importance has spread beyond New York State and to places overseas.

“Its become very clear that we cannot succeed as Meet Me in Marlborough, we have to work with the Valley, up and down,” he said, with Mannese saying “We are growing and evolving and want to branch out and come together. We want to say this is our section of the Hudson Valley, not us, but all of us and to market each other.”

Markly Wilson has been working to enhance tourism in the Hudson Valley for more than a year. He created a task force to discuss ways to ensure fully booked planes coming from Scotland and Ireland. He said the goal is to eventually have about 250,000 passengers annually come to the United States.

Markly said to further this goal, marketing partnerships have been formed between the United States and Irish and Scottish tour wholesale operators “so they will receive the product (tour offerings) we have been working so hard to provide.”

Markly said he was excited to see the interest in this idea from the businesses in Marlborough and the surrounding area.

“I was very impressed with their passion, sense of community and the uniqueness of this part of Ulster County because I haven’t seen places where there are established farms that are providing farm-to-table business or where there is such a variety of places…so it seems ideal that we’re spending our first day here and they’re enjoying it.”

Don Clarke and Julie Magill, of Travel Solutions in Belfast, sell tour packages to local travel agents. Clarke said actually seeing the Hudson Valley allows him to better promote the area to his people in Ireland.

“When people come to New York they always think of the city but we want to take them here,” Clarke said. Magill said traveling on Norwegian Airlines was a “fantastic” experience, with a new airplane and very good service.

Magill said even in uncertain economic times “people always have money for their holidays and the company we work for has grown so so much in the last year.”

One of the stops the tour group made was to the Guarino Farm, home to the St. Hubert’s Lodge & Sporting Clay Club in Marlboro that is owned by Kathy and Alan Guarino. The group took a tour of the 165 acre Bed & Breakfast retreat and the sporting/hunting opportunities and later were provided lunch with food from the local area.

Kathy said she and her husband have been a part of Meet Me in Marlborough for many years and Mannese has tried to include as many members of the organization to promote everyone to the Irish visitors.

“I believe Sheila has put together a broad assortment of what they (visitors) could do if they were here,” Guarino said.

Guarino said it is incumbent on businesses here to encourage travel internationally.

“I believe we should be working hard to send U.S. citizens back to the UK because we’re asking them to help us with our tourism economy [and] we could also help them with their tourism economy.” She said they already have a reciprocal relationship with the Eden Club at St. Andrews in Scotland, pointing out that they are the only sister club in America.

“We’re already trying to find ways to encourage travel in both directions,” she said.

Alan said their international connection to about 15 other similar clubs in Europe is a great asset.

Grace Amoroso has worked at the Guarino Farm for nearly two years, handling a variety of tasks from handling the day to day operations for the guests and running special events or charity fundraisers.

“No day is the same, every day is different,” she said.

The group stopped by the Hudson Ale Works in Highland. One of the owners Josh Zimmerman said “it worked out great having them come in and they were looking at other things besides going to the city.” He gave the group a tour of the premises and provided them with samples of their products – “of what we do and how we started out and our progression over the years.” Zimmerman said they liked his product, saying “it was different and they hadn’t had some of those things before, like our double IPA (imperial India pale ale) or the coconut-vanilla stout. They got introduced to different styles they hadn’t heard about.

By Mark Reynolds
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