A digital mobile passport with discounts for shoppers in Long Island's downtowns is being expanded in hopes of increasing participation.
The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency has agreed to pay $7,000 to continue the Long Island Downtown Deals Travel Pass and add four downtowns in the county. The "passport" now has seven participants across the Island: Bay Shore, Farmingdale, Great Neck, Greenport, Huntington, Patchogue and Rockville Centre.
The passport was started in August by the tourism promotions agency Discover Long Island and is free to use for both shoppers and retailers.
"We were impressed by the responses," IDA CEO Harry Coghlan said, referring to a Discover Long Island report that shows more than 50,000 people have visited the Downtown Deals website and almost 4,000 downloaded the mobile passport.
But he said participation is uneven, with some of the 60 listed retailers and museums not offering discounts. A Newsday review found an average of eight participants per downtown, and Bay Shore, Farmingdale and Patchogue have the most discounts.
"The key is we need an engaged downtown," Coghlan told the IDA board last month. "One of the downtowns was not as fully engaged as we would have liked."
Among the Nassau downtowns, Great Neck has the fewest passport participants: four, and only one of them offering a discount.
The Inn at Great Neck joined last summer and offers 20% off a one-night stay at the 85-room boutique hotel.
"I've seen absolutely nothing from this," general manager Nicholas Horn said in an interview last week, adding, "I forgot we were even participating until you asked about it."
He said Discover Long Island should offer incentives for shoppers to use the mobile passport, such as an additional discount or gift when a shopper shows a receipt. He said there needs to be more publicity to make shoppers aware of the passport.
Discover Long Island CEO Kristin Jarnagin called Horn's suggested improvements "good ideas" and said she hopes to expand marketing for the passport beyond social media in the future. She also said participating businesses, chambers of commerce and business improvement districts can help get the word out.
Jarnagin said last week the technology company behind the Long Island passport — Bandwango in Salt Lake City, Utah — found that the passport "broke records for engagement and is now a model of success for other destinations across the country."
Still, she said all participating restaurants, shops, museums and other tourist attractions would be required to offer a discount to shoppers in the future.
Discover Long Island and the IDA is seeking nominations of Nassau downtowns to participate in the mobile passport's expansion, said IDA chairman Richard Kessel. Chambers of commerce, Business Improvement Districts and others may nominate a downtown by contacting Discover Long Island or the IDA.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said helping downtown businesses recover from last year's COVID-19 shutdown is a top priority. "The pandemic has been devastating for our downtowns, so let’s do all we can to promote and support our local businesses," she said on Monday.
Shoppers can sign up for the mobile passport at discoverlongisland.com/deals, a link will be sent to their cellphone that opens the passport, and they will be directed to add a button icon to their home screen. Customers show the passport on their phone to the participating retailer and hit the "redeem" button to obtain the discount.
Discover Long Island has contacted the Suffolk County IDA about increasing the number of downtowns in the county that are part of the program.
Suffolk IDA executive director Anthony J. Catapano said the agency "is proud to be a supporter" of the passport "and play a role in its continued utilization."