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So, how was tourism for 2009?

FINGER LAKES—In early 2009, with bad economic news at the forefront of everyone’s mind, “We were very concerned last spring before we opened,” says Mark Simiele, owner of Captain Bill’s and Seneca Harbor Station Restaurant in Watkins Glen. “With all the bad media on the economy, we didn’t know what to expect. I have friends [in the tourism industry] in larger destinations, and they were taking a heavy hit.”
Crunching the numbers, “I figured it would be a survival year. Maybe a 10 percent decrease and we’d be doing well. I haven’t finished all the numbers yet, but we’ve had a slight increase across the board. I’m very pleased,” Simiele concludes.
The Corning Museum of Glass, possibly the area’s best-known non-winery tourist attraction, keeps close tabs on its visitor census. Beth Duane, spokesperson for the CMOG, says, “We finished the year at 365,000 visitors. That’s a one percent increase over 2008 but still about 5,000 people shy of 2007.”
Final overall tourism figures the regional statistics on sales and room taxes will paint a clear picture, but those numbers are not yet available. “The reports don’t come out until April,” explains Cindy Kimble President of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance. “Right now we believe and it’s only anecdotal the season probably held its own. Wineries indicated visitors were up and hoteliers indicated visitors were slightly down.”
Brian Zerges, owner of the Best Western Vineyard Suites Inn in Penn Yan, says it’s definitely been a slower year. “The economy has impacted occupancy rates.” A board member on the Finger Lakes Visitors Association, Zerges and other members wanted to get a mid-season snapshot of the 2009 business picture for Yates County so they polled a spectrum of businesses from wineries to lodgings, retail and restaurants. Part of the report reads, “Overall tourism spending declined one percent in 2009, compared with 2008. While tourism spending in restaurants and retail locations were similar to 2008, lodging revenues were down 5.8 percent, and winery revenues advanced 4.8 percent.”
Scott Osborn, owner of Fox Run Vineyards, offers another perspective. The last third of 2007 saw the beginning of a downturn that persisted in 2008, which he describes as “terrible.” 2009 was neither better nor worse. “It was flat, pretty much within a percent of 2008,” he says. Still, he’s optimistic that things will look up in 2010. “I think people will have paid off their credit cards, consumer confidence might be increasing. I’m hoping things will start to look up,” he says.
Donna Davis, co-owner of Sunset on Seneca B&B at the edge of Watkins Glen, offers more detail. “Right at first, it was scary. From April through about the middle of June, it was not looking good for any of us around here. Then the weather improved and people got more comfortable that their jobs weren’t going to fall out from underneath them and they started traveling again. Most of the folks we saw were from about a five-hour driving radius. After June, the season was what we were used to in previous years. “
Rosemary Curtis, manager of the Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort in Bath, said they had some cancellations because of people losing their jobs, but they ended the year ahead of 2008. Curtis said, “People love to camp and they’re not going to stop camping. Many camped close to home; we had fewer guests from further away. But it’s still the cheapest vacation a family can take. And if they’ve already purchased the RVs and pull-behinds, they’re not going to stop using them just because of the economy.”
Camping in the state parks was also positive. “A lot of people expected more park usage due to the economic situation,” says Tim Joseph, Finger Lakes Regional Director for New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “We pretty much had an average year, up in some parks and down in others, pretty much randomly,” he says. “I think Watkins Glen was up slightly a couple of percentage points, it’s well known and Watkins Glen is the flagship park for the region. But Keuka Lake State Park also has a nice campground, a lot of people come to it regularly, so it did about the same as usual.” As for increased camping, Joseph notes, “Nearly all our parks are full during weekends throughout most of the summer. They sell out. When you’re full, you can’t get any fuller, you can’t go up from that.”
Marybeth Hafner of the Hammondsport Chamber of Commerce reports an uptick in area visitors, at least those in the area for a little while. Hafner wrote, “One trend we noticed was more travelers seemed to make day-trips over those who required an overnight stay. Businesses providing accommodations reported more vacancies in 2009 than in 2008 and while they saw some international travelers, the preponderance of visitors came form New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”
And the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport also experienced a very slight rise in visitors. “A miniscule bit up overall. We didn’t lose visitors, we held our own,” says Lynne Mason, manager of the museum gift shop. “The economy is always a factor. And people are doing more things locally.”
It may still be too early to know what the next tourism season has to offer, but most people are not expecting big surprises. Michelle Hyde, at the Clute Park Campground, says 2010 camping reservations are coming in more slowly than last year. While in 2009 campground occupancy was higher than in the previous dozen years, many campers waited until the last minute to make their reservations. 2010 seems to be already following the same trend.
“Usually, we’re already full for the NASCAR weekend, and this year we still have probably one third of the campground available. I’ve had more people say they need to wait longer [to decide] than they usually do.” And, Hyde adds, with the cautious optimism supplied by others, “They say it will come around.”

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