By Todd Garafano
They say it takes a village. This is never more true when it comes to building a successful tourist destination.
Each year, the Convention and Tourism Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, City Center Authority, Downtown Business Association and many other community organizations work tirelessly to promote and market Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County as a year-round destination for tourism, meetings, conventions, sports tournaments, weddings, special events and more.
Each organization has different funding, but the common thread among all of us is membership. It takes members of our community to volunteer their time and expertise to serve on our boards of directors and committees.
It takes members to create new ideas to attract more visitors and it takes members to commit dollars to help offset the cost of doing this work; to generate revenue for local businesses; to create and support the 9,000-plus jobs within the touriåsm industry; and to generate tax revenue to pay for municipal services to keep our city and county clean, safe and attractive to visitors.
2017 was a successful year, not only due to the efforts of what I call the best staff in the business, but also because of the engagement and support of our members.
The year saw achievements that resulted in a banner year in the tourism and hospitality industry.
• Lodging. Through November, Saratoga County saw gains in the lodging industry compared to 2016. Overall hotel demand increased by 9.9 percent over the previous 12 months. With the opening of Homewood Suites and the Adelphi Hotel in Saratoga Springs and the LaQuinta Inn and Suites in Clifton Park, supply increased by 12.6 percent. Due to increased supply, the overall occupancy percentage declined by 2.6 percent.
• Sales. Convention/Group and Business/Group room business continued to grow. Multi-year contracts with statewide association groups, sports tournaments, destination weddings, group tours and corporate groups all saw advances in 2017.
• Conventions/Events Serviced. We worked with more groups than ever before, from pre-event marketing to on-site assistance and post-event follow up. Our professional staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure the success of these events and pave the way for their return for future events.
• Saratoga Heritage Area Visitor Center. In partnership with the City of Saratoga Springs, we extended our Visitor Center management agreement an additional five years. This has been a successful public-private initiative that’s seen the hours of operation and service levels increase to better serve our visitors. We saw a record 40,000 visitors to the center this year, and the staff and volunteers were rewarded with their second Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor for 2017.
Our signature events also saw remarkable success in 2017. Chowderfest drew over 35,000 people to downtown Saratoga Springs and the surrounding communities of Wilton, Stillwater and Malta on a chilly February day. Saratoga County Restaurant Week, Dec. 1-7, saw close to 50 restaurants participate throughout the county and highlighted the incredibly diverse offering for foodies from near and far.
The annual Toys for Toga campaign, in partnership with the Saratoga Brewing Co. and DeCrescente Distributing Co., collected more than 2,500 new toys and nearly $10,000 raised to help local children and families have a nice holiday.
All of this led us to our best year in the membership department, where we finished the year with over 500 member businesses, an all-time high.
At the end of the day, we are a sales and marketing organization and need to proactively find new business opportunities for our member businesses and community. Our sales staff will be on the road more than ever to find these new business opportunities. In convention and event services, we’ll be looking for innovative and creative ways to enhance the visitor experience for our group attendees.
Marketing will fine tune our Discover Saratoga branding and messaging to draw new eyes to our website and social media channels and create an expectation of what visitors will experience once they come to Saratoga.
The staff and volunteers at the Visitor Center will continue to provide an excellent first impression to visitors. The programing will be kept fresh, informative and entertaining.
Through our membership department, we will continue to provide new ways to help our members elevate their own brands and offerings, inviting visitors to experience all they have to offer—to eat, meet, stay, play and shop.
I am confident 2018 will be another solid year for the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, thanks to a great staff and volunteer group, our hospitality and community partners and the welcoming residents of Saratoga County.
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