Visitation and social trends during 2020 were noticeably different in some areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitation by respondents from New York State jumped to 79%. With the border closing and travel restrictions, only 2% of respondents indicated visiting from Canada, and only 5% of out-of-state visitation was from outside the Northeast.
The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) contracted with an independent third-party research firm, PlaceMaking, to conduct the 2020 Leisure Travel Study (LTS), which includes a regional return on marketing investment analysis, plus traveler data for Essex and Hamilton counties.
One pronounced change from prior years’ research is the increase in average party size. This could be another pandemic-related change, with families or friend groups traveling together.
The results of the LTS study contribute to ROOST’s always evolving data-driven decisions. “We can leverage numbers and insights and incorporate trends into our marketing strategies. This is a great opportunity to better understand leisure travelers in our region,” said James McKenna, ROOST’s CEO.
The total estimated trip expenditure was $1,667, which represents a nearly 30% increase in average overall spending per visitor group. Reported spending on lodging, meals, and shopping all showed substantial increases from recent years of data.
“Of course we have to evaluate trends in 2020 differently,” said Mary Jane Lawrence, ROOST’s COO. “We can’t directly compare the results of the 2020 survey with previous years due to the circumstances. Still, survey results demonstrate key demographic and traveler insights we can use moving forward.”
Travelers are coming to the area to play and stay, according to the survey. Average stay length increased across the board. In Essex County, the average stay length roughly doubled the average from the last five years to 6.5 nights. Hotels / motels remained the most reported lodging choice at 47%. Short-term rentals grew in reported use substantially, coming in as the second most popular choice. In Hamilton Country, short-term rentals had less of a shift than other regions or even nationwide. Hotels / motels and camping / RV were each reported by 28% of respondents in Hamilton County.
“The differences in some of the individual county results highlight the need to continue to promote the unique product offerings throughout our regions,” said McKenna.
Hiking of all levels was a huge draw for those seeking outdoor activity. 90% of respondents who indicated that they came to the area for outdoor activities stated that hiking was an activity they sought. The breakdown of hikers is an estimated 69% day hikers, 48% leisure hikers on hard man-made trails, 38% family hikes, 35% high peaks (46er), and 8% backpacking.
Canoeing or kayaking also nearly doubled from prior years across all regions. Outdoor activities in general were the main draw to the regions. In Hamilton County, 87% of respondents selected this as their most reported attraction to visit the area, up from 69% in 2019. Essex County also increased to 89% in 2020 compared to 74% compared to 2019.
“It’s no mystery there’s a growing popularity in outdoor recreation,” said Janelle Hoh, ROOST’s Communications Coordinator. “The results from the survey support that. This just makes it more important for us to focus marketing efforts on responsible recreation and to promote the Love Your ADKs campaign.”
It is important to note the travelers surveyed do not represent all the travelers to the region, only the ones that saw ROOST marketing, follows ROOST’s Facebook destination pages, or subscribes to its weekly email. The entire 2020 LTS report, which includes data on day trip travelers, short-term rentals, and additional ROOST research, is available for download at www.RoostADK.com/Research.
The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism is the destination marketing and management organization for Hamilton and Essex counties, along with the communities of Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, all located within the Adirondacks in New York State.