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Saratoga Springs Reports Record Breaking Tourism Season

Lucas Willard

Community leaders in Saratoga Springs gathered to announce record-breaking revenues in connection with the 2013 tourism season and 150th anniversary of the Saratoga Race Course. 

A team of hospitality and tourism industry representatives called this year the strongest summer season on record. At the Saratoga City Center, they discussed the increase in revenues from hotel room reservations from the summer of 2013.

According to the numbers from June 1st to August 31st, Saratoga County experienced a 3.5 percent increase in tax revenues collected from hotel reservations over the same period last year, adding $327,034 to its general fund. Occupancy rates in the City of Saratoga Springs were up 4.1 percent. Saratoga Springs reported a windfall of $1,152,500 from hotel room reservations.

Michelle Madigan, the city’s Finance Commissioner, said the trending increase in revenues has allowed the city to enhance its services.

"It's also mortgage tax. People are buying more homes here," said Madigan. "And it does all contribute directly to the city's general fund and it helps me maintain essential services. Last year we were able to put two new police officers on the street, two new firefighters. This year I put in an additional police officer and firefighter. It allows us to buy the equipment that we need to keep the city roads plowed when there's a snowstorm, water infrastructure projects..."

The Saratoga Springs City Center, which completed an expansion in 2011, also benefitted from the increase in visitors both during the summer and year-round. President Mark Baker…

“We're continuing to market very heavily towards that long-term group business that wants to commit to Saratoga with their trade, their annual meetings, their expos, and we find that that market is very strong," said Baker.

Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said that some of the success in hotel occupancies could be attributed to new methods of online promotion and advertising of the Saratoga region.

“Our campaign this past summer transition entirely almost to an effort where we were literally tracking people online that met a certain demographic of people that would be interested in coming to Saratoga," said Shimkus. "That was very different from past years where we would buy fixed ads on websites, and it allowed us to more than double the amount of online impressions we had from 2013 versus 2012."

2013 was marked by Saratoga 150 -- the community-wide celebration of 150 years of thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Race Course. Saratoga Springs hosted its first thoroughbred racing meet in August of 1863. A long-standing tradition, the racing meet has expanded from four to forty days over the past 150 years. 

Charles Wait, Chairman of the Saratoga 150 Committee, said that the Saratoga Springs tourism economy must continue to innovate and evolve in order to avoid becoming stale.

"I liken it to a store window display - if you have the same window year in and year out, people are going to stop coming to your store," said Wait. "So we always have to offer people more modern amenities, better value for their dollar, and more things to come do, come see, and better restaurants, and that's the whole thrust behind the efforts by the Convention and Tourism Bureau, the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, and the Saratoga 150."

While the Saratoga 150 Committee is scheduled to disband, Wait said the ideas and tools created will remain to promote the Saratoga region as a destination city.

The $30 million expansion plan at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway and the venue’s likely bid for a full casino license after voters approved a ballot measure last week to expand casino gambling in the state certainly will bring change to the tourism economy of the Saratoga Region.

The panel at the press conference repeated the need for community input among the business community and city and county residents to mitigate any potential negative impacts of bringing a full-size, Las Vegas style casino to Saratoga Springs.

The record-setting season came even with attendance at the Saratoga Race Course slightly down this summer. 

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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