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Chairman’s Corner: Columbia County Tourism

September 12, 2018 11:41 am Updated: September 12, 2018 11:53 am


The results of the Empire State Development’s Division of Tourism report on “The Economic Impact of Tourism in New York State” are in, and Columbia County stands head and shoulders above all counties — Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester — comprising the Hudson Valley Region.

The study, an analysis of 2017 data, reveals that tourism spending continues to grow fastest in Columbia County, which experienced a 10% increase in spending, the largest increase of any county in the Hudson Valley region. Tourists spent nearly $155 million in Columbia County in 2017 and tax revenues generated by tourists grew by 8.6%, which was also the largest percentage increase of any county in the region.

In addition, the report notes, as tourism in the county continues this robust growth, accompanying it is the additional benefit of employing the highest percentage of labor force supported by visitors than any other county in the Hudson Valley.

Apart from the hard work put in by the Tourism Department — including the development of a website with a responsive design that makes it amenable to viewing on mobile devices and tablets, a major improvement over the former site — we must also acknowledge the day-to-day effort put in by those engaged in the tourism industry.

The ESD report reveals that visitors to the county are skewing younger, indicating that the user-friendly tourism website and mobile capabilities, including Instagram, have proven a hit with generation-xers and millennials.

But there’s something for all ages in the county, ranging from historical sites to recreation to shopping to unique events and more. In the recent past, food and beverage opportunities, including distilleries, wineries, and breweries, have proliferated, to the extent that the sector now stands second in visitor spending at 21 percent.

Truly, the success of tourism is a countywide effort, which can be attributed to a myriad of attractions from north to south and east to west. One of the fun facts that can go overlooked in the smorgasbord of things to see and do: Lebanon Valley Speedway has proven the top entertainment draw in the county year-in and year-out.

At this month’s meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, I called for the establishment of a subcommittee to look into the feasibility of instituting an occupancy fee for county hotels, as well as the impact of Airbnb and other internet-based marketing and hospitality services. The subcommittee will explore such areas as the impact of a fee on occupancy rates and to what extent its implementation would have on the county budget.

Although Columbia County has consistently ranked either at the top or among the top performers across the state over the past few years, there is clearly room for additional growth, says county Tourism Administration Ann Cooper.

In the meantime, Cooper added, “we are thrilled” with the latest report results. “Columbia County is an amazing place to live, work or visit. I’m very excited for the future of tourism in the county.”

Reach Matt Murell at