CAPITAL REGION — Tourism throughout the area increased in 2008 despite the flagging economy, but like the rest of upstate, it still accounts for only a small portion of New York state tourism activity, a study found.
In terms of visitor spending, the Central Leatherstocking region makes up 3 percent of the state's tourism, the same percentage as the Capital and Saratoga regions. The Adirondacks represent 2 percent of the state's tourism. In comparison, New York City accounts for 63 percent of the state's tourism, according to a study conducted by Pennsylvania-based consulting firm Tourism Economics.
Visitor spending grew 3.6 percent in the Central Leatherstocking region, 3.1 percent in the Capital Region and Saratoga and 5.8 percent in the Adirondacks.
Visitors to the Capital and Saratoga Region spent $1.67 billion in 2008 "” $909 million in Albany County, $392 million in Saratoga County and $202 million in Schenectady County.
In 2008, visitors spent $41.9 million in Schoharie County and $37.3 million in Montgomery County, which are part of the Central Leatherstocking region.
Charles Steiner, president of the Schenectady County Chamber of Commerce, said people tend to stay closer to home during poor economic times.
He said most people visiting the county are coming from 15 to 100 miles away, and are coming to the area for recreational opportunities such as the Mabee Farm, Proctors and the Schenectady Museum and planetarium. Also, the county's heritage and historic attractions bring people into the area, along with various festivals such as CanalFest, most of which are free or low-cost activities.
Steiner said Union College also brings visitors into the area regardless of the economic climate.
Michele Vennard, president of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau, said business travel has decreased dramatically during the end of last year and the beginning of this year, but the diversity of the area has helped keep tourism steady despite the bad economy.
"We actively work on every segment of travel, from business to meetings, conventions, special events, group tours and sports," she said. This year's tourism season is also looking good for the area, Vennard said, because of the Henry Hudson quadricentennial events.
"Hopefully that will give leisure travel a bump," she said.
Ellen Ganci, tourism coordinator for the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce, attributes the increase in tourism spending in her area to people wanting to stay closer to home.
"They aren't canceling their vacations, they are just staying closer," she said.
Howe Caverns is the biggest attraction in Schoharie County, Ganci said, but people also come to see the New York Power Authority and Gilboa Dam, views of the valley, especially in the spring and summer, and for the various festivals and wildlife.
"Most of the stuff here is free, so that is nice," Ganci said.
Ganci said the Schoharie County Chamber did not start any new or different marketing strategy or campaign that would have attracted people, however the chamber is starting a Web advertising campaign this year.
Deborah Auspelmyer, director of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, said the tourism department has been focusing on the Canadian market a little more.
The goal of tourism is to get people to stay overnight to reap the benefits of the county's bed and sales tax, Auspelmyer said, so the chamber tries to market Montgomery County as the halfway point to places like New York City.
The area's tourism season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Auspelmyer said, and a little bit into October with people coming up from New York City to see the fall foliage and take advantage of the region's rich agriculture attractions, such as fresh farm stands and pick-your-own apple orchards.
Auspelmyer said the Chamber is optimistic for this coming tourism season and has stepped up its marketing efforts with a new tourism Web site, which allows potential visitors to create an online itinerary and displays all the county's attractions, including the biggest ones like the Arkell Museum and Auriesville Shrine.
The chamber is also doing more Web advertising.
Ganci said she is optimistic for the coming year's tourism season because people's wallets are still pinched and they are looking for inexpensive entertainment and recreation.
"They need respite from the day-to-day stresses so they will continue to seek stress relief and they can find it real close by," Ganci said.