State tourism officials expecting a big comeback this year

Janine Robinson, left, and Lynn McColl, both of Saratoga Springs, enjoy lunch at Putnam Market on Broadway in Saratoga Springs on June 4. Tourism officials expect business to pick up this year.
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Janine Robinson, left, and Lynn McColl, both of Saratoga Springs, enjoy lunch at Putnam Market on Broadway in Saratoga Springs on June 4. Tourism officials expect business to pick up this year.

ALBANY — State tourism promotional officials are expecting the industry to rebound from a pandemic-devastated 2020, with large-capacity venues starting to re-open and a new smartphone app that will let customers discreetly notify a business they are vaccinated or COVID-free.

At a virtual meeting Monday of Empire State Development’s Tourism Advisory Council, state officials discussed plans to make broader use of the Excelsior Pass program, which has been pilot-tested at some sporting events in New York City in the last month.

“Look, the priority is re-opening New York right now. We’ve got to get people comfortable coming to large gatherings,” said council Chairwoman Cristyne Nicholas.

“As we come out of this COVID time, it looks like it’s going to be a really great summer,” said Mark Dorr, president of the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association, who made a presentation to the council.

Last year, starting in March, the COVID-19 pandemic largely shut down the state’s tourism industry, with arts venues, sports stadiums, museums and destinations like Saratoga Race Course shuttered to visitors to prevent spread of the viral illness. But this spring, with more people every day vaccinated and dropping viral transmission rates, arts and entertainment values will open at 33 percent capacity on April 2, outdoor amusement parks will open at 25 percent capacity on April 9, and catered events can have 150 people, as long as all patrons are tested.

Also, starting April 1, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has decreed that people traveling to New York from other states will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival.

“There are brighter days ahead,” said Ross Levi, the state’s executive director of tourism, who oversees the I Love New York program.

Tourism and arts officials are looking forward to learning more about one state initiative, the Excelsior Pass program. If both a business or venue and the patron are using the app, the business can instantly determine that a person has been vaccinated, though Levi said no other personal information is revealed. Patrons could also print out the pass if they prefer, he said. The program will be voluntary for patrons, though event venues may be able to require some proof that a person is vaccinated or COVID-free.

“It’s just a tool we have that will make it easy,” Levi said.

A launch date for the program isn’t yet clear, but tourism industry groups will be getting presentations on it this month and in April.

Arts organizations lost about 280,000 jobs last year and closures had a financial impact of around $400 million, said Mara Manes, executive director of the New York State Council on the Arts. “We really don’t know what the next years will look like except they won’t be normal years for any arts organization,” she said.

“We are excited about the news of the Excelsior Pass and other programs,” Manes told the council members.

Even though people traveling across state lines will be easier this year than last, the state Tourism Industry Association will still be putting a strong emphasis on encouraging New Yorkers to take vacations in other parts of the Empire State, said association Chairman Josiah Brown. Its initiative will be called “Roamin’ the Empire.”

“We want to evoke like a New York patriotism, we want them to pick New York,” he said.

Tourism — a mainstay of the economy in the Saratoga Springs region and around Lake George, as well as in New York City — had a $117.6 billion economic impact in the state in 2019, according to the Hospitality & Tourism Association.

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