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The Upstate Economy
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Upstate tourism may see a spike this summer

WRVO News (file photo)
Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay is a popular tourism destination in upstate.

After recent years of consistent and even record growth, New York's tourism business -which is the state's third-largest industry- suffered a blow this year due to changes related to COVID-19. Bob Provost, president of the New York State Tourism Industry Association, said travel spending in the state dropped $18.7 billion between March 1 and June 6. That's an 80 percent drop from 2019.

"That’s obviously devastating to the hotels, restaurants, museums, the attractions, and the taxpayers," Provost said. "During that period of time, it’s estimated that the state and local tax revenues derived from the travel spending declined a little over $1.2 billion."

Millions of dollars will be lost in central New York alone this year with the cancellation of high-profile events like the Boilermaker Road Race in Utica and possibly the New York State Fair in Syracuse. But Provost said there may be a silver lining. New York City, which normally is the number-one tourism destination in the state, is still viewed by many to be unsafe - opening up new opportunities for upstate.

"Sales and rentals of boats, RVs, campgrounds, kayaks, and bicycles is going through the roof and there’s a real transition in terms of what the consumer perceives to be safe," He said. "Upstate New York’s lakes and rivers, trails, canals, mountains, and other attractions are going to attract a customer who is looking for something a little different."

Provost said customers need to capitalize on that upstate focus. He and other tourism experts recommend that business owners reassure the public about the safety precautions they are taking and maybe even take the opportunity to offer new services that meet the moment, like adding outdoor events.