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Saratoga County Economic Development Leaders Utilizing Science To Understand Summer Season

The 1863 Club at Saratoga
Lucas Willard
The 1863 Club at Saratoga Race Course. Governor Andrew Cuomo has allowed for thoroughbred racing to resume in the state June 1st, but without fans in attendance.

With COVID-19 dampening travel plans, economic development leaders in the tourist destination of Saratoga County are utilizing behavioral psychology to try to determine what potential visitors are thinking. 

Saratoga Springs-based Mind Genomics, which has worked with clients like Apple and IBM, is conducting a study of 1,000 participants that local leaders hope can be used to tailor messaging to boost the summer tourism economy. WAMC's Lucas Willard spoke with Mind Genomics President Dr. Ken Rotondo, who explained that the science behind his firm's studies is intended to find the right way to communicate. 

So there may be people that say, I don't care, I want to go back to Saratoga because I'm, I'm tired of being in in Montclair, New Jersey, and I want to get back to Saratoga this summer, because I've been doing it all my life. Other people say, I'm a bit hesitant to go anywhere right now. But, you know, I've heard this message, and this message about Saratoga. And it's created a level of comfort, that those messages make me comfortable that this is worth the three hour drive for me to come here and spend some time, safely and securely. So we're going to help the community find out who those subsets of people are, so that we can talk, resonate, our message will resonate more clearly with each one of those.

So what sort of traits do you predict that people who are at home right now might be thinking, oh, that's something that I'd like to explore. And maybe this is an option as opposed to a crowded racetrack on a summer day.

So you don't realize you unintentionally asked a very good question, but not for the reasons you asked it. I, when I tell people that we're doing the study, what I say is we want to go into this investigation with something I call conscious ignorance. Okay, so we don't know what we don't know. But we do know, we can list the reasons why people come to Saratoga now. And some of those things may be valid, some of not, so we're still going to test that. However, we have a theory of why other people might come here, might be safety and security distance from home, I don't want to get on an airplane. This is somewhere I can drive in my car. I don't even have to get out of my car and use a public bathroom on the way over here. I mean, all of these things exist, right? These are all the things that we don't know what people are going to be thinking about. So what our study does is we test all of that without a preconceived notion. All we want to come up with right now are what are the various variables, independent variables, that could affect your decision going forward? I'll give you an example how it happened in human medicine. We just did a study with the University of Pennsylvania medical school on colonoscopy screening. Now, when you turn 50 years old, 35% of people that are eligible don't get it. We found 13% of the people in that group. The doctor comes in and tells them all the reasons why they should get colon cancer screening, right. And this is, you know, going to live longer all of these other things. 13% of those people don't hear any of that until the doctor or the healthcare provider says to them, Lucas, do you want to dance with your granddaughter at her wedding? Do you want to see your grandson graduated from college? Do you want to live long enough to shoot your age as a golf score, whatever it may be, it has something to do with their personal life. Now you would think the logic of somebody considering something is as monumental as avoiding colon cancer would not be driven by something that had to do with their personal life. But 13% of the people were driven by that. We had no idea about that going into this study, absolutely not. However, when we were putting together the stimuli, the test for the University of Pennsylvania, somebody in the group, you know, the subject matter experts that we build the stimuli and with, somebody said, well, let's put a couple personal things in there. We had religious beliefs in there, we had, you know, how their faith in the medical system was their belief that you can you believe the doctor, are they a trustworthy deliverer of information. So we tested all of those things. And then when the data came back, we had these aha moments they go, you know, wow, that's surprising. I would ever think 13% of the people will respond that way. And what I hope to have happen is that what will come out of this is we'll wind up seeing, you know, there'll be certain responses and groups of people that we would have said, wow, I never would have predicted that and then the next thing we look at is how big of the total population that we just surveyed. Is it only 3% that think that way? Or is it 38% that think that way? And if it's 38%, that's important how you message the masses going forward? Would you agree?

And then take that information and apply it to a place and an economy like Saratoga in the summertime.

Yeah. And if we can, if we can give the people in the community more information to work on, and they may come back to us as a wow, we did this but we need more information. Can we do another study? Well, yeah, you can do it. There are more things you can study, you can refine on it. You know, somebody who does a company, a brand, Nike goes out and does a survey or a focus group. They don't do one survey or focus group and stop for the rest of you know, for the next two years. They want to test other things as you discover things. That's sort of the scientific method, right? You test the hypothesis. You come back, you retest it, something else comes up. I want to explore this a little bit further. The most important thing we want to find right now, and why we're so popular right now in the post COVID world, is that everybody knows you just can't go out and ask people questions. I mean, you could go out on the street tomorrow. I mean, I think you can get a pulse for people's anxiety. But even if you look at how people respond when we were going into this, they're telling us how dangerous the pandemic is, and people are still packing the beaches, right. Or now the disagreement that coming out of COVID-19, people that are saying, oh, I don't believe that much in it. And I don't think it's all that serious. There's other people that are afraid to leave their house. So you've got to find the gradient of how you're going to communicate to people who have different perceptions. And that's what we try to do.

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