Thoroughbred meet a winner off the track
SARATOGA SPRINGS Hotel occupancy and room rates were on the rise during July and August in Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County, despite a slight drop in attendance at this summer’s racing meet.
The positive assessment, which included good summer numbers for Saratoga Springs restaurants and retailers, was delivered at a Tuesday morning meeting of Saratoga County business owners, according to Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus, who attended the meeting.
“Both occupancy and daily rates are up,” said Shimkus, whose assessment was based on hotels from Saratoga Springs and around the county, including Malta and Clifton Park. “That is unusual. Normally, to get your occupancy up you have to drive your rate down. In this case, they were able to ask for higher rates and get higher occupancy.”
Cynthia Hollowood, manager of the Saratoga Springs Holiday Inn, credited good weather, an uptick in the economy and the Saratoga 150 celebrations with both the greater number of guests and the higher per-night rates the hotel was able to charge.
“I believe we had a record occupancy and revenue for the month of July,” Hollowood said.
Business didn’t slouch in August, either, as she noted they experienced a 13 percent revenue growth per room from August 2012 to August 2013.
These are critical months for the hospitality industry in Saratoga County, where business slows in the winter. Hollowood said July and August account for almost 40 percent of annual room revenue at the Saratoga Springs Holiday Inn, which does more business on Travers weekend than in the entire month of January.
The good hotel news was a positive change from the first quarter of the year, according to Shimkus, who said the year started slowly.
Shimkus said when hotels are doing good business, so do restaurants, which was the case this summer. He said restaurants that have reported to him have also credited the lineup at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with keeping them busy since Memorial Day Weekend.
Retailers in downtown Saratoga Springs also ended with a good summer, despite a slow start in July, according to Shimkus. While most retailers conduct most of their sales in the winter holiday season, Shimkus said they still like to see an uptick in the summer.
The Saratoga 150 celebrations had a big impact on foot traffic downtown this summer, with more locals than usually braving the summer crowds, based on retailers reporting to Shimkus.
“All the people locally who typically avoid being part of the crazy season downtown, [retailers] saw them down there this year, and they believe that was because of Saratoga 150,” he said. “People wanted to be part of the community celebration.”
A crowd of more than 30,000 filled downtown Saratoga Springs for the Floral Fete and Ice Cream Social on Aug. 2, and people were turning out all summer long to see window displays.
As to where people went in Saratoga Springs, based on the almost 4 percent decrease in paid admissions at the track, Shimkus noted the Saratoga Polo Association had a big summer and the Saratoga National Historic Park saw increased attendance.
Another reason for the larger crowds could have been Saratoga Casino & Raceway, which continues to be one of the biggest attractions in the Capital Region. Interest in the racino’s harness racing even increased this year, according to Director of Racing Operations John Matarazzo.
“For the first time in many years, we actually saw an increase in our live on-track handle,” Matarazzo said.
Unlike most summer seasons, which end on Labor Day, Saratoga Springs is poised for a big September. SPAC is partially responsible for that, as the Farm Aid festival is coming to the venue Sept. 21.
“Farm Aid changes everything,” said Shimkus, who anticipates the city will take on a tracklike atmosphere. “That weekend was already going to be big because of weddings and rowing.”
The impact of the festival, he added, will be felt outside the city, which won’t have enough hotel rooms to accommodate the influx of people.
Hollowood said business last year in September and October was slow.
“We anticipate our September and October to be markedly better than last year,” she said.
One of the major attractions in October is the Saratoga Springs City Center, which is booked solid, according to previous statements by its president, Mark Baker.