Thanks to its proximity to New York City, natural beauty and quaint small towns, the Hudson Valley has always been popular with tourists. But the sector has become especially important for our area over the last few decades, as economic trends have favored the type of work done in cities to the detriment of rural areas. Although some complain that tourism jobs don’t pay well, it’s likely that without a regular cash infusion from outside the area, the Hudson Valley would resemble the rust belt; or as Elliot Spitzer described parts of New York State to our north and west, Appalachia.
According to Ulster County Tourism Director Richard Remsnyder, things have never been better. In 2014, the last full year for which numbers are available, tourists spent $514 million in the county.
“This is an all-time record,” Remsnyder crowed.
And not only is tourist spending up, he said, revenue from the two percent county bed tax is up at least eight percent from 2014.
“This is a good indicator of what type of occupancy we have in our hotels, motels, B&Bs and inns,” Remsnyder said, adding that the $1.2 million from bed taxes in 2014 was a record likely to be broken by an expected $1.25 million for 2015.
He says there are four places in Ulster County that drive tourism: Kingston, New Paltz, Woodstock and Saugerties.
HITS alone is responsible for a good deal of economic development, Remsnyder said. The horse shows bring thousands of tourists to the county each spring, summer and fall, helping drive recent hotel construction.
“We’ve been working with HITS and Diamond Mills over the last few years and they say the Saugerties motels are filled each HITS season and rooms are needed,” said Remsnyder. “HITS participants and tourists are creeping into Kingston and the town of Ulster.”
But HITS isn’t the only tourist draw in Saugerties. The village and town are teaming with visitors during the tourism season, Remsnyder said. (Tell us about it!)
Saugerties preservationists would agree with his advice.
“One of the main things we can do to keep this trending moving forward is to protect our downtowns, their architecture, and rich shopping diversity,” he continued.
Saugerties Tourism Committee Chair Marjorie Block said recent articles geared toward travelers have helped drive tourism. “We had quite a few travel writers in Saugerties this year; from the United Kingdom, Country Walking magazine, and the Huffington Post as well.”
Block helps travel writers plan their itineraries. She said she shows them Diamond Mills, the Lazy Swan and local restaurants. She also credited Remsnyder and his department for helping set up trips to Saugerties for the travel writers and tourists.
Block, like Remsnyder, says county and local officials can support tourism by promoting the uniqueness of their downtowns, with their quaint stores and quality restaurants. She also mentioned a new website, saugertiestourism.com, which promises more information for would-be visitors, and a Facebook page.
All good news?
Of course, folks like Block and Remsnyder can be expected to have good things to say about tourism. That’s their job. Ask a real estate agent how the local market is doing at any given time, and you can expect to hear, “It’s great! For buyers and sellers!”
We asked about the Garlic Festival, which saw a 15-20 percent drop in attendance this year.
Village Trustee Jeannine Mayer, who is the site coordinator for the Kiwanis Club, said many believe there are just too many choices for tourists during the time of year the Garlic Festival takes place. Maybe moving the date up will remedy this, she said.
What about local business owners?
Rhianna Rodriguez, along with her husband, Jorge, owns the popular Main Street Restaurant. “It seems that each year tourism gets better,” she said.
About 30 percent of the restaurant’s business comes from tourism, she estimates.
“And it’s not just HITS,” she quickly added.
“The sign out on the Thruway which advertises Saugerties also helps,” she said. “People traveling past on the Thruway see the sign and drive into the village to see what we have,” Rodriguez said.
“We also get skiers during the winter and vacationers throughout the year,” she added.
“What I find interesting is when I stop by the peoples’ tables and ask them where they’re from. They’re from all over and give a lot of feedback about what they like here.”
Daisy Bolle, who owns DIG Boutique on Partition St. with her husband Van, is also a big fan of the out-of-towners. “Tourism is huge for us,” she said. “It’s about 50 percent of our business.
“Here in Saugerties, shopping is an activity,” Bolle said. “People will come up to kayak on the Esopus, then come into the village to shop and maybe get something to remember their trip by, and they eat in our fabulous restaurants.
“HITS is only eight or nine weeks,” Bolle pointed out, “but we have shoppers coming here seven months out of the year.”