|By Chris Churchill, Times Union, Albany,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 10, 2010--SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Tourism surged back to life in the Capital Region this summer, bucking a still sluggish economy that clouded optimism at the start of the season.
Hotels in Saratoga Springs and Lake George had their busiest June and July in at least five years, according to travel industry statistics. The impressive numbers are echoed by anecdotal accounts from tourist-dependent businesses that are mostly thrilled with the resurgence.
The reason for the rebound could be up for debate. Some observers believe the economy kept downstate travelers closer to home. Others say it has improved enough that folks are more willing to spend.
But nearly everyone also points to the summer's remarkable stretch of dry weather -- which was in contrast to the unusually wet weather of the prior summer and perhaps proves that sunshine trumps the economy when it comes to influencing travel decisions.
"Last year, everyone was anxious and depressed and there was a general feeling of doom and gloom," said William Roach of Putnam Wine and Putnam Market, businesses in downtown Saratoga Springs. "But this was a good summer for Saratoga."
It was so good, in fact, that the July hotel and motel occupancy rate was 75.6 percent, according to industry tracker Smith Travel Research. That rate was 14.9 percent higher than for the prior July.
It was also the highest rate for July alone in Saratoga Springs since 2003.
Meanwhile, the average daily revenue per room -- the key statistic for any hotel -- was $119, up by 25.9 percent from the previous July.
The numbers were similar in another hotspot for tourism: Lake George.
There, July occupancy was at 76.6 percent, up by 15.1 percent. And average revenue per room was $106, an 18.6 percent jump.
The bonanza was hardly limited to Lake George and Saratoga Springs. Hotel occupancy numbers were also up in less obvious visitors destinations, such as Albany and Schenectady.
To the east in the Berkshires, tourist-friendly attractions like the Williamstown Theater Festival and Tanglewood say their ticket sales were strong. To the west, the director of tourism for Otsego County said the streets and hotels of Cooperstown were more active than in recent seasons.
Deb Taylor also said the down economy has made people far less willing to plan ahead.
"The travel trends are so different than they were even two or three years ago," she said. "People are making last-minute travel decisions."
It's likely that those last-minute decisions are made with an ear to the weather forecast. With that in mind, some in the travel industry say they have little faith increased tourism spending will continue into the fall or be repeated next summer.
The upstate New York version of Mother Nature is rarely so willing to cooperate.
"I grew up here and I've never seen a summer like this for weather," said Steve Puricelli, co-owner of a Lake George motel where business jumped by a third this season.
Puricelli and his partners bought the Lake Motel in 2008, on the day the Wall Street firm Lehman Bros. collapsed, helping trigger the financial crisis.
The economy has since improved, helping boost summer tourism. But Puricelli credits neither the economy or his own acumen for the strong year at his business.
"Motel owners always say that good weather in a bad economy trumps bad weather in a good economy," Puricelli said. "And it does."
Reach Chris Churchill at 454-5442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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