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Despite Slower Start, Many Confident Saratoga Tourism Will Improve

Recent reports show that the 2013 racing season at the Saratoga Race Course was facing lower levels of attendance over last year in the several days after its July 19th opening.

The Albany Times Union reported that on an opening day with temperatures above 90 degrees, track attendance was down 15 percent from the previous year’s opening day. The slump continued with the next day down 13 percent. On the first giveaway day, attendance was 7 percent below last year’s.

New York Racing Association spokesman Eric Wing told the Times Union that less-than-ideal weather was partly to blame for the lower attendance in July. Others blamed current economic conditions.

The Saratogian newspaper reported earlier this week that attendance is down three percent so far this season, but things are picking up in August.

But the race track remains only one major player in Saratoga’s summer tourism season. Marcia White, President and Executive Director of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, said that July’s hot weather also had an impact on SPAC’s attendance levels during its dance season.  

"Weather does make a factor but I think people have to recognize you just have to make a decision. Do you want to have a good evening? Come to SPAC, rain or shine," said White.

The New York City ballet, a long-time staple of SPAC’s dance season, was in residence for only one-week in 2013, down from two weeks in 2012. While White said that SPAC was also able to bring in three other famous dance organizations during July, she said it’s her goal to bring the New York City Ballet back for more time in 2014.

"Our goal is of course to retain that residency and hopefully grow it to at least two weeks," said White.

The New York City ballet, which is currently undergoing its own contract negotiations, has so far agreed to a one-week state in 2014.

Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce said it’s the locals and daytrippers that can make for a great or lackluster weekend of business.

"One of the biggest trends in the tourism industry is many more people, especially those within a drive to Saratoga, make their decision at the last minute, and in many cases it's last-minute," said Shimkus.

But Shimkus also said that anecdotal reports from hotels in Saratoga County have been positive, and that’s a great sign.

"The key driver of a local economy that relies on tourism is the hotels. People shop and dine near where they stay, so as long as the hotels are doing well, then everybody else will do well, too," said Shimkus.

Shimkus said he’s confident any weather-related slump in business during July can be made up in the weeks ahead, especially when considering this week’s launch of the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, and upcoming special events in conjunction with Saratoga 150,,the community-wide celebrate of the 150th anniversary of the Saratoga Race Course.

"August is when we are the summer place to be. August is when people think about Saratoga. August is when NBC starts broadcastig the races every Saturday and so we're seeing an uptick in August as you would expect,"  said Shimkus. 

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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