Warren County’s occupancy tax receipts are headed for another record year for 2017, a figure that county tourism leaders say shows that guests are continuing to come to the region in strong numbers despite criticism by some business owners.
Business leaders in the Lake George area have claimed the tourism economy is stagnant, and 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.
They have pushed for more occupancy tax proceeds to be transferred to the Lake George Convention & Visitors Bureau to promote to groups, and claim that the annual rise in occupancy tax receipts stems from an increase in room rates. (The county charges a 4 percent tax on hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast rooms.)
Data from Smith Travel Reports, a survey of hoteliers that is considered a significant resource for the lodging industry, seems to belie that claim, at least for 2017, however.
The company’s figures show that the average room rate in Warren County in 2017 was $145.95, compared to $145.75 in 2016, said Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors Tourism Committee.
Conley said Smith Travel Report data showed hotel and motel occupancy demand (the number of people booking rooms) was up in 2017, but occupancy rates dropped slightly because of more room inventory coming on line as new hotels opened. The occupancy rate was 51.8 percent in 2016, compared to 51.5 percent last year.
(The report does not include all hoteliers, only those that agree to participate.)
Merlino has been at the center of the dispute between private tourism leaders and the county Tourism Department, as he staunchly defends the Tourism Department’s performance with limited manpower.
The private tourism group has claimed that the county’s $300,000 funding for a CVB is 17th out of 17 communities surveyed, but Merlino said that does not include the $2.2 million put toward the county Tourism Department.
Merlino said the travel report shows January’s number of rooms sold was up 1.3 percent, compared to Saratoga Springs declining 4.4 percent during the same month. February room data has not been received yet, according to Joanne Conley, Warren County’s tourism coordinator.
“From the reports we got, February should be pretty strong,” Conley said. “The (Lake George) Winter Carnival drew good crowds.”
Conley said this winter’s room growth seemed to be seen during midweek instead of weekends, and she was looking into the impact of ski racing at local resorts.
The two recent snowstorms should help bring in visitors for skiing and snowmobiling this weekend.
“I think this weekend will open up snowmobiling again,” she said.
The county’s occupancy tax collections for 2017 will be considered complete by the end of March. As of Thursday, they were up 3.2 percent for the year, with just under $4.3 million in so far, an increase of $164,000 over 2016, according to county Treasurer Michael Swan.
Merlino said a bigger problem for hotels is short-term home rentals through Airbnb and similar companies, from which the county is not yet collecting occupancy tax.
County leaders have been discussing for years how best to collect occupancy tax from short-term rental companies, and Swan said those discussions have continued with meetings with some of the bigger companies.