Hotels in Warren County saw a 4 percent drop in business last year, while the county’s “top hotels” saw a bigger loss of 8 percent, a private tourism organization reported Friday.
Leaders with the Warren County Lodging Association, made up of hotel and motel owners and other businesses, released a report to the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Friday titled “Why wait on tourism? It’s time to act!”
The association has been pushing for the county to put more occupancy tax money toward the Lake George Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau or tourism “direct marketing organization” to push for more group business.
Receipts have grown annually from the county’s 4 percent room tax, but hotel owners say that is because room rates have gone up while occupancy has stagnated.
Despite the concerns, Warren County is still the top occupancy tax-producing county in the state. The Adirondacks ranked fifth of nine tourism markets in the state in terms of total visitor spending in 2016, according to the report.
Warren County is 17th out of 17 counties in the state with a convention and visitors bureau and/or direct marketing organization in terms of funding put toward that agency. County supervisors did increase funding for the Lake George Convention and Visitors Bureau by 42 percent in 2018, to $300,000, and directed more collaboration between the county Tourism Department and the bureau.
“It’s not that we are doing a bad job,” said Frank Dittrich, a lodging association leader. “We are just trying to show ... where we fit in a competitive landscape.”
“We have to act now, or risk falling behind,” said Laura Kohls, whose family operates numerous hotels and outlet centers in the Lake George region.
Kohls and Dittrich gave a detailed presentation Friday that showed the impact of tourism on the local economy but also showed some alarming trends.
Warren County had the third lowest tourism spending growth of seven regional tourism-heavy counties between 2015 and 2016, their report showed. Essex County had 7.4 percent growth, compared to Warren County’s 1.3 percent and Saratoga County’s 1.6 percent.
Kohls said the Million Dollar Half-Mile outlets had a bad year as retail continues to suffer from online competition.
“Retail outlets are struggling,” she said. “2018 is going to be worse.”
The sales tax brought in by tourism in Warren County cuts the average homeowner’s property tax by $2,500, Kohls said.
The organization made five recommendations for county tourism efforts going forward:
- Put more funding toward the CVB/DMO model.
- Improve collaboration and partnership among tourism agencies.
- Develop “accountable” roles and responsibilities and transparent measurement systems for tourism success.
- Develop and execute a sustainable multiyear strategic tourism plan.
- Bring “new energy” and a year-round thought process to marketing the region.
Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors Tourism Committee, said supervisors are involved in “ongoing talks” with business leaders as to how to spend occupancy tax funding. More was put toward the CVB this year, and county leaders are looking at monthly reports and will analyze how that funding was used before making a decision about 2019 money next fall.
He said he believes the county’s tourism industry is healthy, as evidenced by annual sales tax and occupancy increases.
Bolton Supervisor Ronald Conover, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said more collaboration could help overcome “challenges” in the tourism industry.
“I’m very excited about working more closely with the CVB,” he said.