BY Darryl Leggieri
I think it is safe to say that 2020 has been a year like any other for our community, as well as the meetings, events, and hospitality industry.
The silver lining has been the numerous collaborative opportunities that were forged due to the pandemic. These collaborations among economic development agencies, various businesses, and elected officials have served to highlight the value of working together. Instead of working in our own silos, we united to help our community.
While most meetings, conferences, sporting events, and social events were canceled or postponed, we focused on helping our local businesses survive. They are the fabric of our community; they are what makes Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County so special. Without them, we would lose our identity, our brand. I continue to be amazed at the creativity of our small business owners.
They really did the heavy lifting when it came to understanding their viability as a business and how to make their offerings safe for their employees and their customers. Our lodging partners were also resilient. Faced with withering occupancy, they quickly adapted to the new safety protocols and found a way to create safe meetings and events for up to 50 people.
When the warmer days came around, we did have relatively strong demand during the summer, which were mostly leisure travelers from inside a three-hour drive market. Many were visiting our wide-open spaces for the first time. They were looking to escape, and they fell in love with our destination. This was a great help, but without the powerhouse demand generators like the Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Live Nation, and of course all the conferences and events that we normally attract, we could not make up the difference.
Through November, Saratoga County saw major declines in 2020. Overall hotel demand was down 38.2 percent. Occupancy was down 34.4 percent, and rate was down 23.5 percent. Total revenue was down 52.7 percent. These are staggering numbers.
Looking ahead. As the vaccination process is being worked out, we are hopeful, there is some light coming our way. Confidence to travel again is just around the corner. That is when our industry will start to build momentum. There will be more travel, more meetings, and social events.
The mission of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, operating under the “Discover Saratoga” brand, is to deliver 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. We serve as a hub that connects visitors with local venues, and the many establishments managed by our 500-plus members. As a key economic development engine for our community, we drive millions of tourism and event dollars into our local economy.
Group business is like a coiled spring, once we can release that energy, we can begin to get back to some sense of normalcy. The meetings and events industry really came to a stand-still with many of these events switching dates three and even four times in hopes that the restrictions would allow their organizations, associations, and families to meet face to face safely.
Our sales team has been working tirelessly with our lodging partners and our colleagues at the Saratoga Springs City Center to stay engaged with our clients and work with them during this difficult time. They are stressed, seeking guidance, and waiting. It looks as though most of the first quarter of 2021 will be a wash in terms of group business.
However, we see that there are some groups looking at the second quarter, and the booking window shows signs of strength for the second half of the year. Clients are now thinking about longer term meeting plans and they will pull the trigger when they feel safe. The drive market will continue to play a role in where groups want to meet. There will be less international travel, as well as domestic flying. Driving will still be the most popular mode of transportation because people feel the safest in their own car. This bodes well for our destination as we are three hours from several first-tier cities. We are implementing our sales strategies around this now.
We recognized opportunity when presented with adversity and we garnered deeper respect for one another. Our advocacy will focus on driving recovery to best position all members, businesses, and our region to recover and ultimately thrive post-pandemic. While we know that our work is not over, we must continue to collaborate and face the challenges of tomorrow, and we will.
BY Darryl Leggieri