Ulster Leads as a Fun and Healthy Cultural Destination

By Lisa Carroll

REGIONAL – The numbers are up, and that's a very good thing, says Ulster County Tourism director Richard Remsnyder.

"It's good news," Remsnyder said of the statistical evidence showing what a boom year it's been for local tourism, evidenced in a tourism economics report commissioned by the Empire State Development Corporation and the I Love NY campaign which studied state-wide tourism trends and demonstrated specifics for individual counties and regions. "For the fifth straight year the numbers have gone up, which is really good."

The report, he explained, indicates that tourism spending in Ulster County in particular has increased $8 million in the last year, leveling out to just under $514 million. In addition, Remsnyder continued, Ulster County has been ranked number one in tourism amongst the Catskills and other Mid Hudson Valley counties, above Sullivan, Greene, Delaware, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam counties.

According to the county website, over 3 million visit Ulster annually.

Those figures seem to coincide with a July 2015 press release from Governor Cuomo's office that announced that the total economic impact of the NYS tourism industry reached an all-time high of $100.1 billion in 2014. In that same statement, the governor said that New York has been ranked the state most visited by overseas travelers for the 14th consecutive year. Numbers totaled 9.98 million visitors last year, accounting for 29 percent of all overseas travelers to the country.

It also backs up reports that cultural tourism in Sullivan County has been increasing even before a new casino goes on line there, as well as an August 21 press release from Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus that trumpeted a 3.5 percent increase in tourist dollars there in 2014 for a total expenditure of $450,399,000.

"I have been a strong advocate of promoting tourism in Orange County since I took office," Neuhaus said, plugging "unique restaurants, parks, golf courses, biking trails, museums, craft fairs, wineries, farmers markets and historic sites" alongside West Point and the Woodbury Common Premium Outlet. "The continued success of our Tourism Department has helped economic development in the County and strengthened our economy. It creates and sustains jobs, and supports a vibrant business environment."

Speaking for Ulster County, Remsnyder suggested that the local pick-up in interest stems from a five-year major marketing strategy the Ulster County Tourism office has been spearheading mostly through radio and television, and specifically geared towards the metropolitan area.

"We're just ninety minutes from Manhattan," he said. "People are becoming more aware of what a great four season area this is."

Most of the tourists, he continued — citing a figure of at least 80 to 85 percent — are coming out of NYC, Connecticut, Long Island and NJ, or through there from other countries. There's been a big push of late, he continued, to market in Pennsylvania as well.

For those traveling along the NYS Thruway, Remsnyder said, there are three key stops within the county — New Paltz, Kingston and Saugerties — and naturally, those areas are more visited. Although more and more, visitors are moving off the main routes to explore more.

Additionally, he continued, there is another measuring stick used to tally visitors — the hotel occupancy tax, or amount that B & B's, hotels and motels have to pay based on their usage, and those numbers are all up as well.

"It's an indication of how many people are coming to the county," Remsnyder said, noting how last year's first two quarters were up by 15.2 percent (as compared to four percent in Orange County).

"That's good news, too" he said. "Record numbers in fact."

Remsnyder added, however, that while things generally look up for the county, more has to be done in the Ellenville/Wawarsing area to get it back to what it used to be. He's looking to partner with the Ellenville Million committee and other local entities to better strategize future plans.

"We want to do everything we can to invigorate travel and tourism in that area," Remsnyder said, adding that efforts need to concentrate on much more than the new traffic going through when the Montreign Casino in Sullivan County gets built, and leverage the $100,000 granted the area for publicity and marketing help through the recent Ellenville Million campaign. "We're going to do everything we can to help."

Along those lines, the county tourism director spoke about increases in health-related tourism utilizing state parks and rail trails, the Catskills and a growing number of running competitions. But also such cultural institutions as the Shadowland Theatre, which is finishing up what all are agreeing was a very good season, along with such destination restaurants as Aroma Thyme and Gaby's.

"The downtown area seems to be going through a renaissance," Remsnyder said of Ellenville. "And the upper part of the Rondout Valley is booming."

Onward to leaf peeper season now...