The future looks bright for travel and tourism in Westchester. “We have a strong industry, which generates $1.9 billion in retail sales, transportation, lodging, food and beverage, and recreation,” according to Natasha Caputo, director of tourism and film for Westchester County. “We anticipate growth in all the segments in business and leisure travel.”
That’s good news for members of the Westchester Hotel Association, as members are coming off an exceptional year. “The slowest time of the year is January, but we had storms last year where you couldn’t find a hotel room within 50 miles. That brought up occupancy for the year,” reports association president Sean Meade, general manager of Cambria Suites in White Plains. Looking forward, he says, “Room revenues will be up between one percent and two percent in 2019. Most of that will come from rate growth. The hotel industry in general doesn’t have much room to grow in occupancy during peak travel season.”
The economic sky isn’t cloudless, however. Inflationary trends in expenses, increases in the minimum wage, and nonstop competition for both business and recreational customers work against the industry’s bottom line. Then there’s infrastructure. “It’s hard to overstate how important Westchester County Airport is to our economy,” Meade says. “It hasn’t been updated since before 9/11, and it drives our economy.”
“We have a strong industry, which generates $1.9 billion in retail sales, transportation, lodging, food and beverage, and recreation. We anticipate growth in all the segments in business and leisure travel.”
—Natasha Caputo, Director of Tourism & Film, Westchester County
Attractions like Historic Hudson Valley’s Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze contribute heavily to the sector’s strength, too. “Blaze started in 2005, and we welcomed 18,000 people,” says Rob Schweitzer, vice president of communications and commerce for Historic Hudson Valley. “In 2018, we were open 42 nights and welcomed more than 175,000 people.” He points to the huge phenomenon that Halloween has become and adds that 35,000 people came to Horseman’s Hollow at Phillipsburg Manor in 2018.
Westchester County Tourism isn’t taking anything for granted, according to Caputo. “We recently moved onto a new online platform designed for destination marketing,” she says. “We’re going to be doing a better job of target marketing with our partners.” Among other initiatives, “We’re working to celebrate World Pride, providing a welcome to the LGBTQ travelers coming to New York City in 2019.”
Historic Hudson Valley is focused on the future, too. The Blaze may be at capacity, Schweitzer says, but “this year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of the ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ so we’re planning on developing some new programming at Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving, that will raise the bar.” The working theme of the new event is “the Sleepy Hollow Experience.” It’s planned to be an immersive theatrical performance where the audience goes from station to station and becomes part of the action.