Higher gas prices didn’t keep people from visiting the Saratoga Springs region last summer — in fact, inquiries about possible visits rose 8 percent in 2007, and so did room occupancy tax revenue, according to the county Chamber of Commerce.
Since visitors stay at any of dozens of hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, and eat in any of hundreds of restaurants, the number of inquiries and the room tax revenue are among the few solid measures available of local visitor activity.
“We saw increases across the board,” said Greg Dixon, the chamber’s vice president for tourism.
The total number of inquiries was 44,900 last year, and the room tax brought in over $500,000. Total spending by visitors is estimated at about $110 million a year, according to the chamber.
Tourism is possibly the county’s largest source of economic activity, running neck-and-neck with agriculture.
The biggest spending impact is on hotels, motels and restaurants, but sales taxes collected on visitor purchases benefit the entire county, said Supervisor Anita M. Daly, R-Clifton Park, chairwoman of the county’s Economic Development Committee.
Most of the tourism action occurs around the six-week thoroughbred horse-racing meet and other activities around Saratoga Springs in the summer. But officials said the number of visitors in the spring and fall is also rising — thanks in large part to conventions at the Saratoga Springs City Center.
Daly said visitors support the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, museums and other institutions that couldn’t survive without them, but enrich the cultural landscape for year-round residents.
Saratoga isn’t alone in seeing a recent growth in tourist activity.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s office said New York state’s tourism industry generates 740,000 direct and indirect jobs, and spending increased by 7.2 percent from 2005 to 2006. State figures for 2007 were not available.
A study the state commissioned last year put the total value of tourism in New York state at $46.6 billion.
In Saratoga’s case, good weather and national publicity near the beginning of last summer’s race meet helped bring in visitors, Dixon said, and high gas prices didn’t seem to hurt.
“If it’s a nice day or nice weekend, people are going online to look at the weather and saying let’s go to Saratoga,” Dixon said. “People are taking shorter vacations and the planning time is also shorter. People are more apt to take a long weekend.”
The chamber received inquiries by phone, mail, or e-mail. There were a record 2 million visits to the www.saratoga.com Web site, and 38,310 tour guides downloaded, according to Dixon.
The majority of inquiries came from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, as they have historically. New Yorkers, primarily from metropolitan New York and Long Island, made up 27 percent of the inquiries, followed by New Jersey (10 percent), Pennsylvania (9 percent), Connecticut (6 percent), and Massachusetts (5 percent).
The chamber handles tourism promotion and response to inquiries under a contract with Saratoga County and the state’s “I Love New York” tourism promotion program.
It promotes the region with print and broadcast advertising in selected markets, with brochures, and with the Web site. The county last year paid the chamber $378,525, supplemented by $64,905 from Empire State Development’s “I Love New York” program.
The occupancy tax revenue is budgeted to bring the county treasury about $550,000 in 2008, up from $500,000 in the 2007 county budget.
The occupancy tax applies to all rentable rooms. Revenue is higher because of the increased number of hotel rooms in the Saratoga Springs area and room rate increases from 2006 to 2007, as well as visitors coming to long-established accommodations.
Daly said she’s hopeful that 2008 will also be a good year, despite widespread talk of an economic downturn.
“We just seem to be able to rise about some of the worse situations we see around the state and around the country,” she said. “We have a niche. It’s a great place to bring a family. People come here for a getaway.”
“People will still travel, but they may spend less,” said Dixon.
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Categories: Schenectady County