By Francesca Krempa
Parades and firework displays are few and far between this Fourth of July, but that doesn’t mean Adirondack Park businesses aren’t optimistically prepping for another successful holiday weekend with an onslaught of visitors.
Despite coronavirus, many recently opened hotels, restaurants and attractions around the park are anticipating a bustling, albeit different, Fourth of July. Visitors from out-of-town have trickled in – the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) reports that feedback from hotels in the region is positive with an estimated 90 percent occupancy. After a long quarantine and closures, owners and local officials are looking forward to the crowds the holiday seems to be garnering – still, business owners have predicted business to be 50-95 percent below last year’s numbers.
In Lake George, which reported a “banner weekend” for bookings and sales the weekend of June 20, hotels and attractions are expecting an equally impressive Independence Day.
Traditionally, the July Fourth holiday week (July 1–7) is strong for tourism in the Lake George region. According to data from Smith Trend Research, hotel room demand has remained consistent in the area over the last three years. Joanne Conley, tourism director for Warren County, anticipates another busy holiday, all things considered.
“Early indicators, including weather, look good for the upcoming weekend. Our goal, understanding that the industry overall is experiencing a decline, is to be no less than 50 percent below the previous year,” said Conley. “We feel we are ready to safely and responsibly welcome visitors to Warren County and look forward to a successful holiday weekend.”
Using Smith Trend Research, Conley and Warren County plan to track occupancy – a main metric for tourism visitation — over 2020’s period. Conley said those numbers should be available in two weeks.
Hospitality owners and managers share similar sentiments. Sarah Pfau, who manages The Point in Bolton Landing, has all eight cabins rented through the holiday. While The Point won’t be throwing its usual barbeque in its boat house, Pfau says there is plenty of other outdoor spaces for guests to take advantage of from a safe distance.
Sam Luciano, president of the Fort Henry William Hotel and Best Western of Lake George, explained that occupancy has been high since Memorial Day Weekend, and Fourth of July is no different. Normally, the Fort Henry William Hotel’s parking lot is opened for front-row seating and concessions during the local fireworks display. Since the Village of Lake George has canceled this year’s show, the hotel won’t host local crowds from Glen Falls and Queensbury to pack in the parking the lot.
Regardless, Luciano is expecting a busy weekend and, even more promising, a similar summer. After a spring in quarantine, he thinks people are eager to get outside to safely take advantage of the beautiful Lake George region. And with lower rates, more visitors are jumping at the opportunity to book a trip.
“The number of reservations coming in has doubled every single day for the last three weeks,” he said. “I’m optimistic that the summertime – so July and August – is going to be 85-95 percent to last year.”
This positive sentiment resonates through other areas of the park, too. Even though hotspots like Saranac Lake and Lake Placid have both canceled their popular celebrations, local hospitality businesses are still optimistic the holiday will draw a large crowd.
“There’s a lot to do here, with or without fireworks,” said Mary Jane Lawrence, chief of staff at ROOST. “We’re a sought-out destination in the best of times. But now, with our 6 million acres of open spaces and fresh air and outdoor activities – now more than ever people are looking at what we have to offer.”
The Mirror Lake Inn is looking forward to a full weekend. After several months of closure due to coronavirus, the Inn officially re-opened on Friday, June 26. Christopher Jarvis, the resort’s director of rooms, said the Fourth of July is “always extremely busy for us” – this year will likely be no different.
Just down the road, Jennifer Webb, general manager of the Golden Arrow Resort, said she also anticipated the weekend to sell out. Regardless of the canceled holiday events, guests are excited to get out on the lake and into the sun. She’s hopeful this trend will continue through Labor Day.
“[Guests] seem like they cannot wait to get here,” she said. “Every day people are coming up being like, ‘Yeah, we want to stay one more day, make it two more days.’ That definitely happens sometimes during the summer but not on a daily basis like it is now.”
Webb, along with Pfau, Luciano and Jarvis, all emphasized the safety of the staff and guests. All hotels have implemented strict cleaning protocols to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure everyone stays healthy.
Small businesses, like restaurants, retail stores and attractions, are as well. And while business is important — the holiday certainly is exciting from an economic standpoint — safety in the pandemic seems to be a shared primary goal.
“The dollar comes second this year at guest’s and staff safety,” said Tim Bresett, general manager of the Ausable Chasm.
On the Adirondack Coast, the Ausable Chasm is eagerly awaiting guests. While most adventurous activities, like tubing and rock climbing, aren’t yet available due to health safety restrictions, the park’s five miles of scenic trails have been opened for hiking and exploring since June 15.
Summer at the chasm is bookended by Fourth of July and Labor Day – in a normal season, all weeks between those two dates attract an average of 1,000 visitors per day. Bresett knows visitation will be significantly lower than year’s past. But the public’s interest over the last few weeks serve as a promising indicator for Fourth of July and the rest of the summer.
“We’re lucky we were able to open two weeks prior to Phase Four, which allowed us to test the waters and get ready,” he said. “This is all about keeping the building and the park as clean as possible and keeping people socially distant.”
In Keeseville, Highlands Vineyard is gearing up for their official re-opening just a day before the official holiday. The vineyard is a family-owned business that has taken a hit – coronavirus has caused them to cancel their usual summer lineup of live music and food vendors, and reschedule a rotation of bridal showers, baby showers and weddings.
From an economic standpoint, the re-opening is exciting. But safety comes first this Fourth of July– Normally, guests are invited to bring their own blankets to watch the Burlington fireworks with a bottle of wine. This year, guests can expect to drink wine between plexi-glass stations at the bar out of plastic one-time-use cups or at separate tables outside to coincide with CDC guidelines.
“I have had so many phone calls and Facebook messages about opening up,” said owner Lindsey Campagna. “I think people are looking for some outdoor activity they can do where they feel safe and comfortable and that’s exactly what we are trying to provide. We have waited to open up until we were confident we could do it in a safe way. Safety of those around us is our number one priority this summer.”