By Todd Garofano
What a wild ride 2012 was for the meetings,
conventions and the group market in Saratoga
Springs and Saratoga County. We started out
very strong, probably our strongest first quarter
in recent memory in terms of hotel stays and
revenue generated from our hotel community.
Between January and March, hotel occupancies
were up almost 22 percent and revenues
during that same period were up just under 37
percent county-wide. First, January performed
stronger than expected with three large annual
conventions, headquartered at the City
Center, coming in with higher attendance than
in years past.
Several properties also picked up short term corporate conference business, which is unusual for January. Chowderfest opened February with record attendance, over 25,000 people, thanks in part to the warm weather and generated more hotel stays than previous years.
Dance Flurry had a strong attendance and we had a new event, Saratoga Beer Week , draw over 4,000 people and generate over 300 room nights for its inaugural run. The warm weather continued into March which benefitted a Saturday St. Patrick’s Day and filled our hotel rooms once again. On top of all of this activity, our base of extended-stay hotel business, generated in large part, from the ongoing project at GlobalFoundries was still going strong.
The spring convention season, which runs through June, was solid as was the summer racing season for groups. As September rolled in, as expected, we started to see a drop in the extended stay hotel market as GlobalFoundries ramped up and began chip production at FAB 8 in Malta. That decline would have been buoyed by a strong fall convention season as Saratoga was on the verge of a record October for meetings and convention business.
But Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast and the devastation was felt far and wide and continues to be felt by our neighbors to the south. Many of the groups scheduled to meet in Saratoga were impacted; some had to cancel outright and hoped to reschedule at a later date while others saw their attendance diminish significantly as delegates, speakers and exhibitors were not able to come to Saratoga for their event.
This had a significant impact on our business for October and November and could still impact our business into 2013.
When all was said and done, we still ended the year up over 2011 in all the key areas of lodging; +2.8 percent in occupancy, +6.3 percent in average daily rate and +9.2 percent in revenue per available room (RevPar). These stats are provided by Smith Travel Research and are for Saratoga County through Nov. 2012.
Looking forward to 2013, we are cautiously optimistic that we’ll continue in this growth pattern. January looks to be strong once again on the meetings and conference side but we don’t have nearly the same base of extended stay business generated by GlobalFoundries as we have had over the previous two years.
Many of the relocation hires have moved into apartments or found permanent housing and much of the contract business has been completed, sending vendors back to their home states or countries. The home-grown festivals in February continue to grow and the spring & fall conference seasons look to be solid. The big question mark, aside from the national economy and gas prices, is will the drive-distance travelers from the areas hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy have recovered enough and have an appetite to travel upstate for meetings, conferences or weekend getaways and vacation.
The Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau is taking on many new initiatives to drive more business to Saratoga County. We have launched www.saratoganyweddings.com and will be hiring a full-time sales & service coordinator to proactively market Saratoga as an ideal destination wedding market.
We see this business in our county now but realize we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.
We will extend our marketing reach, not duplicate what’s already being done locally, to New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston and beyond.
Additionally, we are launching Saratoga’s own Sports Commission to handle the emerging sports and special event market segment. The bureau currently handles this market segment but it has grown significantly and requires such special attention that we are at a crossroads.
The sports market provides a tremendous opportunity to fill our hotel rooms, shops and restaurants year-round and county-wide. This market segment tends to be recession-resistant and loyal to those destinations that serve them well. By committing specific resources through a sports commission, we will be able to compete on a larger scale than we are now.
The Saratoga Springs City Center continues to be the centerpiece of the conference and convention offering for Saratoga Springs. The recent expansion of the City Center has outperformed expectations. We continue to focus on statewide, national and international association and corporate meetings, conferences & conventions as well.
An ongoing strategy of the bureau has us integrating technology to better serve our meetings and convention delegates and group visitors, to market to them and promote Saratoga long before they arrive and long after they depart with the goal of either extending their stay or enticing them to return for vacation.
We also continue to grow and expand our collaborative efforts with local business and economic development organizations like the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., Chamber of Southern Saratoga County, the Downtown Business Associations and others as well as our local city, town and county officials in order to identify new market and business opportunities.