For only the second time in 38 years, county tourism officials are predicting a decline in summer tourism business.
Joseph Dalton, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, predicted that the county will experience a 5 percent drop this summer, adding that tourism in some parts of the nation is off 30 percent to 40 percent this year because of the weak economy.
Atlantic City and Las Vegas are among the areas hit hard by the recession.
“People are late in making reservations,” Dalton said about the local tourism season, which reaches its peak when thoroughbred horse racing starts next week for the 36-day meet at Saratoga Race Course on Union Avenue. “They are shopping for the best rates.
“We will be a little down [this season],” Dalton added. “Everybody is prepared.”
He said local businesses are thankful that things in Saratoga County are not as bad as in other parts of the country. The only other decline in Saratoga Springs tourism business over the past 38 years, Dalton said, was in the 1970s during the gasoline shortage.
New York Racing Association officials are keeping their fingers crossed that the track season doesn’t start out with three weeks of rainy weather like the 2008 season did. The business lost during the bad weather could not be made up, even though the second half of the season was strong.
Attendance at the flat track was down 9.8 percent and betting was down 7.2 percent in 2008 compared with 2007. Weather, even more than the economy, has a major impact on the success of a racing season, according to NYRA officials.
The historic track officially opens for racing Wednesday, July 29.
In its traditional opening event of the season, Saratoga Race Course will host its 29th annual open house Sunday, with steeplechase races on the main track and a variety of other special events.
The open house will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parking and admission are free.
“It’s such a fun day,” Ed Lewi of Ed Lewi Associates of Clifton Park, a company that does promotions for NYRA, said about the open house.
Lewi said families can ride a tram into the backstretch areas and see thoroughbred horses in their stables, often with their stable “pals,” a dog or a cat to keep them company.
“A lot of people just come for the food,” Lewi said. He said nonprofit charitable organizations will be serving such items as fried dough, sausage and peppers, hamburgers and beverages.
The open house is presented by NYRA each year to give people in the Capital Region a chance to see the track, watch steeplechase races, hear live music and get a preview of the upcoming racing meet. Some of the highlights are as follows:
u The National Steeplechase Association will present four jump races and one turf race. The races, on which there will be no wagering, will be at 1:30, 2:05, 2:40, 3:15 and 3:50 p.m.
u The Islip Horsemen’s Association Long Island Drill Team will perform on the main track at 11:15 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.
u At noon and 2:30 p.m. in the backyard picnic area, a Best in Show Pet Walk will be held near the Union Avenue gate. Pet owners can bring their pets for a stroll.
u The Children’s Museum of Science and Technology will again have its popular Leaping Lizards and Rocking Reptiles exhibit under the Carousel restaurant canopy, with shows at 11:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. Children and parents can observe the reptiles and learn about their behavior and habitat.
u There will be pony rides and face painting in the backyard, along with caricature drawings and a petting zoo.
u Professional handicappers will hold seminars on picking winners in the Paddock Pavilion. They will explain how to read the Racing Form and how to handicap a thoroughbred race.
The Saratoga Economic Opportunity Council, a nonprofit program that helps needy families and low-income individuals in crisis, will be collecting non-perishable canned goods at the entrance gates. Anyone donating two cans to the EOC food pantry will receive a 2009 NYRA calendar while supplies last.