By Darryl Leggieri
With 2023 in the rear-view mirror, let us take a moment to reflect on what a great year it was-at least in leisure travel, and the meetings industry!
Leisure travel was anchored by many of our major attractions and cultural institutions, such as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Casino Hotel, Saratoga National Historic Park, Universal Preservation Hall, Caffe Lena, National Museum of Racing, and the historic Saratoga Race Course. The track’s summer meet exceeded one million in paid attendance once again.
As for meetings and events, the return of business was fruitful. Not even rising costs, staffing shortages and a possible recession changed meeting planner confidence.
When we look at the numbers for our lodging partners, through November of 2023 year over year, Saratoga County saw steady positive growth. Over the previous 12 months, demand increased by .5 percent, Occupancy was up .8 percent, Average Daily Rate (ADR) was up 5.9 percent, and Revenue Per Available Room (REVPAR) was up 6.7 percent. The occupancy and average daily rate that our lodging partners were able to command shows a strong return to business, and breaking records for revenue in many cases!
As we start the new year, we’re absolutely delighted and honored to be designated as the official Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA) for Saratoga County. We are excited to embark on this journey to showcase the unparalleled beauty, culture, and experiences that our county has to offer. It’s an exciting time to be taking over the tourism responsibilities because travel is back. Strong domestic leisure travel demand has been the driving force in our post-pandemic comeback, and we expect it to continue and be resilient in the coming year. More authentic travel experiences will continue to gain share. Visitors want to see the real side of a destination. Wellness, unique rural settings, heritage tourism, and experiential travel (festivals, events, food and craft beverages). They want their own experiences, finding those unique Instagrammable moments.
It’s an exiting time to be taking over the tourism responsibilities because travel is back. Leisure travel will be a priority in 2024 with travelers indicating their number one reason to travel in 2024 will be to rest and recharge.
As for meetings and events we are forecasting another strong year. From an activity perspective, we anticipate that in-person meetings, as well as the number of attendees at those meetings will increase across the board.
With many companies around the world operating with remote work forces or hybrid office environments, the need to bring employees together has never been greater nor more widely recognized. Virtual fatigue is real – attendees want to see each other in person. Organizations also want their customers and employees to meet in person.
This is where Discover Saratoga comes in. One 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 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. This makes our community stronger, helping our families, our friends, and our neighbors.
In case you haven’t heard, we are also thrilled and honored to host the Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Race Course June 6-9, 2024! This is a historic opportunity for our region to showcase our world-class attractions, hospitality, cultural arts, and natural beauty to a global audience. We are excited to welcome the fans of the Triple Crown series to experience our vibrant and diverse community. The Belmont Stakes will also have a significant positive impact on the local economy, generating revenue and jobs for our businesses and residents. We are grateful to NYRA for choosing Saratoga as the alternate venue for this prestigious event, and we look forward to working with them to make it a success.
Overall, meetings/events/tourism and their impact on the local economy proved to be strong throughout 2023, and we project it will continue to climb in 2024.
That is the underlying message driving industry predictions for the coming year. Plenty of positivity and great expectations!