Watertown Daily Times | Tourism spending up last year from 2016 despite high waters
The tourism industry in the Thousand Islands generated more revenue last year than in previous years despite record high water levels and flooding, according to a recent report.
Analysis firm Tourism Economics, Wayne, Pa., reported that travelers to the region, which includes Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Oswego counties, spent $543.3 million last year, a 4.2 percent increase over the $521.6 million spent in 2016.
“Traditionally, the area does pretty well in getting people to spend money because … the area tends to have people visit for longer periods of time and they tend to come in larger groups, and larger groups tend to spend more money,” said Gary S. DeYoung, executive director of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council.
Earnings from visitor spending last year generated $36 million in local tax revenue and $29.9 million in state tax revenue, or $65.9 million total, according to the report. (The different totals are due to the state sales tax exemption on clothing, which isn’t extended to the counties.)
According to the report, tax revenue earned last year was more than in 2016, when it was $63.7 million.
The regional tourism industry also brought in $144.6 million that directly supported labor income and directly supported 6,465 people in local jobs last year. Money that directly supported labor income was up from 2016, when it was $137.2 million, but the number of jobs directly supported from tourism was down from 2016, when it was 6,597, according to Tourism Economics.
“In the case of tourism, most money goes into people’s wages very quickly and stays in the area,” Mr. DeYoung said.
Business experienced a dip in earnings during the spring and summer months last year because Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River had spikes in water levels, and both flooded several coastline areas.
Mr. DeYoung said the lodging sector experienced a dip in sales last summer, from $18.7 million in the summer of 2016 to $12.7 million. Summer sales from RV parks and campgrounds also fell last summer from $396,000 in the summer of 2016 to $321,000 last year.
The waters, however, began to recede and the sun shone more often when fall arrived, allowing some business to make at least a small comeback, Mr. DeYoung said.
“We had a really nice bump in the fall that made up for some of the problems in the summer,” he said. “The only things that continued to hurt in the fall were the RV park and campground folks.”
The Clayton Trading Co. experienced a sales pickup in the fall after a slow summer, said owner Therese Christensen, bringing her 2017 figures up to equal her 2016 sales.
“Especially with the nice weather in the fall and the water levels going down,” she said.
Visitor spending bumps in the local retail, recreation, second-home rental and upkeep and food and beverage sectors also supported the regional industry, Mr. DeYoung said.
Natali’s C-Way Resort & Golf Club, Clayton, earned slightly more in sales last year than in 2016, thanks to continued support from regular customers, said family operator Patricia Natali. The elevated water levels, however, prevented a few of her regular customers from using their boats, Ms. Natali said, dissuading them from returning.
“New customers come from repeat customers,” Ms. Natali said.
Experts, however, initially expected the regional tourism industry to boom last year from 2016, considered by many to be one of the best years for tourism the region experienced.
Relatively low gas prices, a stable economy and other factors that bolstered local tourism in 2016 were also present last year, Mr. DeYoung said, but the flooding and high waters slowed the region’s improvements.
The growth in visitor spending in 2016 from 2015, when it was $496.9 million, was 5 percent, compared with the 4.2 percent growth between 2016 and last year, according to Tourism Economics.
“It was up modestly at a time when it should have been up substantially,” Mr. DeYoung said.
Debbie A. Janson, who owns the Freight House restaurant, Ogdensburg, said the high water levels set her back slightly in sales last year compared to 2016. Some of her regular customers’ seasonal homes were flooded, she said, forcing them to limit their discretionary spending.
A harsh winter also brought sales down for the Ogdensburg eatery because people were forced to spend more money on heating, Ms. Janson said.
“This winter was horrible because of the extreme cold,” she said.
Lake Ontario’s high water levels last year, however, didn’t prevent the H. Lee White Marine Museum, Oswego, from achieving a better sales year, according to its director.
Mercedes A. Niess said hosting notable tall ships, promoting historic lighthouses and holding several large events helped increase museum revenue last year from 2016 by 10 percent.
“We had a huge event (for the tall ships) that was off the chart with over 8,000 people here for a long weekend,” she said. “I’m certainly pleased with the events we had and the revenue generated by them.”
The “fork” ratings are based primarily on food quality and preparation, with service and atmosphere factored into the final decision. Reviews are based on one unsolicited, unannounced visit to the restaurant.