By Darryl Leggieri
Another successful year for the books. Saratoga Springs remains a vibrant, in-demand destination that people want to visit, hold meetings in, and work and play.
To embrace this popularity, we must look ahead and be ready to serve the meetings and conventions industry effectively and continue to grow our impact on the local community. Before we discuss the economic outlook for 2020, let’s reflect on the past year’s successes.
In 2019, our community came together to create one online community calendar. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Mannix Marketing, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Business Association, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs City Center, and Discover Saratoga, event organizers can now enter information on any one of our top performing local websites and that information will populate on all of them.
The goal of this project was to make it easier for event organizers to promote their events and for participants to find them. This community calendar has proven to be a huge success.
Saratoga’s arts and culture scene is flourishing! This past year, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation approved $1.75 million to rehabilitate and upgrade Saratoga Preforming Arts Center’s (SPAC) infrastructure, including amphitheater ramps and lighting. In December, SPAC was awarded $2 million in funding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) initiative, which will be used to revitalize the Roosevelt II Bathhouse. Once restored, the old bathhouse will become a unique cultural destination, featuring an art gallery, rehearsal space, teaching kitchen, and more.
SPAC is additionally partnering with COESA, a destination wellness community also located in the Roosevelt II building that will offer wellness programming, retreat experiences, meditation, classes, and more. Wellness tourism is currently a $639 billion market forecasted to grow at an average annual rate of 7.5 percent through 2022.
Unlike other wellness centers, COESA will give participants the ability to choose lodging and restaurants anywhere in the city, at any price point or level of luxury. The addition of COESA will help the Saratoga region thrive through diversified economic development.
After nearly two years of renovation and $9 million raised, Universal Preservation Hall (UPH) will officially open on Feb. 2. The hall is a dynamic space for arts and culture located in the heart of downtown Saratoga Springs. A vibrant arts and culture scene helps local businesses thrive and provides opportunities for visitors and locals alike to spend time here.
2019 was also a great year for our team as well as our members. As a key economic development engine for this community, Discover Saratoga’s mission 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, and groups.
The bureau team is positioned to target each of these markets proactively to drive business into our city and county. We will continue to leverage our current value propositions like walkability, safety, convenience, and culture. And we will continue to work closely with our city and local partners to develop effective programs and initiatives to promote tourism and hospitality.
Our motto, “heads in beds,” continues to be a main priority. This past year, we saw gains in lodging compared to 2018. Overall hotel demand is up 3.9 percent and new supply (new hotels) was flat. Occupancy was also up 2.8 percent, while average daily rates remained flat. Group bookings continue to grow with a focus on multi-year contracts and filling need times in December through March.
Our hotel partners are working closely with the bureau staff to identify untapped markets and move business through the pipeline.
Our partnership with the Saratoga Springs City Center remains strong. We work together to book large conventions and events for all to benefit from. With the addition of the new parking facility, which will add 600 parking spaces, this project will help us remain competitive with other destinations for convention business, and it will provide ample parking for day visitors who come to Saratoga to shop and dine.
Considering our new racing schedule, our team is working diligently to identify and attract groups that will meet during the beginning of the week, when the track is closed. A few of our dark day marketing initiatives include group incentives and digital marketing like video, search engine optimization and online advertising.
Membership has reached an all-time high with over 500 members! We continue to show value to our members by bringing group business into our community, making our convention calendar easily accessible, and assisting with their marketing efforts.
In addition, events like Discover Saratoga’s annual Restaurant Week and Chowderfest maintain growth in participation and attendance. Last year’s Chowderfest had a record breaking 96 vendors, 137,000 bowls of chowder served and thousands of loyal attendees!
The Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center is critical to tourism serving 40,000 visitors annually who seek information, advice and education. Through guided walking and trolley tours, the Visitor Center has become an essential gateway for visitors who want to explore our city and all it has to offer. The Visitor Center has also received the coveted TripAdvisor’s certificate of Excellence award three years running, a testament to their success.
Although our mission is to drive group business, our passion remains in sharing Saratoga’s unique story. The future looks even more promising and rewarding.
By Darryl Leggieri