By Darryl Leggieri
Saratoga Springs continues to be a vibrant, historic and growing city with a bright future.
Discover Saratoga is fortunate to have amazing partners like the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the City Center Authority, the Downtown Business Association, and many other community organizations to help navigate its growth. These organizations serve different purposes but are all on the same page when it comes to putting Saratoga Springs, Saratoga County, local businesses, and serving residents and visitors of Saratoga first.
As a key economic development engine for this community, the mission of Discover Saratoga (also known as the Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau) is to contribute a positive impact on the local economy by promoting and marketing Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County as a world-class destination for meetings, conventions, special events and group travel. The bureau team (one of the best around), is deployed to target each of these markets proactively to drive business into our county and city.
I feel so fortunate to be promoting such a great destination. With so many neighboring destinations becoming more competitive, we need to stay relevant by showcasing our current value propositions like walkability, safety, convenience and culture.
We look forward to working on a project grant in 2019 to develop a multi-media marketing campaign promoting Saratoga Springs as the exciting cultural destination and regional economic driver we know it to be. The campaign will be developed in collaboration with Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, Skidmore College, Opera Saratoga, Caffe Lena, the National Museum of Dance, Saratoga Springs City Center Authority and the city of Saratoga Springs.
Currently, in reviewing group business with some of our hotel partners in Saratoga, we see that group business is steadily increasing in 2019. Saratoga Springs City Center had its busiest year to date and is looking to surpass those numbers in 2019. Meaning, we secured a nice foundation of group business, and will focus on identifying more opportunities to attract short-term groups during the slower seasons.
The City Center remains the anchor of convention and special event business for Saratoga Springs and we must continue to invest in this important asset. With the center parking structure project moving in the right direction, along with the city’s development of the Flat Rock parcel, Green Belt Trail, and green space, Saratoga will remain competitive in the region.
2018 was a solid year for our team as well as our members.
Through November, Saratoga County saw gains in lodging compared to 2017. Overall hotel demand was up 2.7 percent. New supply (new hotels) was minimal in 2018 with only a 1.8 percent increase. Occupancy was only up 0.9 percent, so it was hard to drive rate, but the rate did show a positive increase of 1.1 percent year over year. We saw no negative trends for 2018.
Group bookings continue to grow with a focus on multi-year contracts and filling need times from December through March. Our hotel partners are working in concert with the bureau sales team to identify new targets and move business through the pipeline. This will impact business in 2019 and beyond.
Our convention services team has engaged more groups than ever before with a focus on developing positive relationships with our event planners to foster repeat business and consult them on how they can have a successful event in our destination. We are also working to define a “voluntourism” program so when groups come to our destination, they can align with our local nonprofit organizations. This helps to fulfill a local need and shows another way to measure a successful meeting; giving back.
We continue to see membership growth, year over year, with a steady base of over 500 members. We pursue new ways to promote our members through digital marketing and event participation. In addition, events like Discover Saratoga’s Restaurant Week and annual Chowderfest maintains growth in participation and attendance.
In partnership with the city, we continue to see successes with the public/private partnership at the Saratoga Heritage Area Visitor Center. We anticipate closing 2018 with 40,000 visitors who utilized the center’s many services and resources. The facility also received a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor for the third year in a row.
For 2019, we expect another busy year, with more date offerings for the Saratoga Historical Trolley Tours and the expansion of activities at our summer concert series in Congress Park. The staff and volunteers at the Visitor Center continue to do amazing work by providing information to enhance the guest experience for all that utilize this facility.
We will work to increase our brand exposure through strategic digital marketing. In addition to our recent website re-launch, we will collaborate with partner organizations for a new events calendar that will live on multiple organization’s websites, simplify member event submission, and offer unified event information for the consumer.
This year we produced numerous videos with travel influencers and local videographers to further attract visitors, group travel, meetings and more. Also, our social media platform will see even more growth and extend our reach to outside the immediate area.
We see a bright outlook for 2019, as we will continue to stay competitive, drive group business during our need times, and team up with our community partners/members to do what’s right for Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County. Although our mission is to drive group business, our passion remains in sharing Saratoga’s story.