Report shows tourism is growing in Suffolk County (like it or not)

08/07/2015 9:00 AM |

Harvest East End 2013 at McCall Wines

To the great displeasure of anti-tourism curmudgeons, it appears Suffolk County is becoming even more popular as a vacation destination.

In its biannual report on the county’s tourism industry, the Long Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau found that hotels are being booked more frequently and bringing in more money per guest than compared to a year ago.

These are signs of growing demand for a Long Island vacation experience, said LICVB vice chairman Steve Bate.

“Hotels are not having to do deep discounts and promotions in order to attract people,” Mr. Bate said. “More people are interested in coming here.”

LICVB’s report compared the first six months of 2015 to the first six months of 2014, so its results don’t reflect the entire summer.

Researchers found that hotel occupancy in Suffolk County was two percent higher in 2015 than it was during the same period last year. Meanwhile, the average daily rate of a hotel stay in the county rose from $123 to $128, a four percent increase.

Mr. Bate was particularly pleased to see such growth during the first half of 2015— a time period that excludes the largest chunk of the peak travel season — especially after a winter in which more than 50 inches of snow buried the county.

On July 22, LICVB president Greg DeClemente told the Suffolk County Legislature’s economic development committee that, of the 364 hotels on Long Island, 309 of them are in Suffolk.

Altogether, LICVB reported that Suffolk County tourism could grow up to three percent in 2015, something director of marketing Kristen Matejka said is “without a doubt” part of a larger trend.

Although tourism dropped dramatically from 2008-09 during the recession and occupancy rates across the county dropped six percent, Ms. Matejka said, it’s been on an upswing since 2011. And while the report didn’t break down numbers by town, Mr. Bate is confident the East End is driving much of the growth, since it attracts so many visitors to its wineries, beaches and villages.

“It’s clear that the majority of the leisure travel is happening on the East End,” he said. “Clearly, most of the tourism traffic is coming out here. It’s absolutely a key part of the economy.”

For Mr. Bate, the North Fork is an increasingly popular destination.

“This fork has definitely been discovered,” he said. “No doubt about that.”

Several local businesses reported feeling the effects of increased tourism. In Greenport, Front Street Station owner Dave Sailor said his restaurant is “busier” despite there being few major events in the village to attract newcomers.

“We’re getting a lot of out-of-towners,” he said. “We get them from as far away as New Jersey … Gas is about a dollar a gallon cheaper than it was last year, and I think people are more willing to get in their cars and do a day trip.”

But Steve Wirth, owner of Digger O’Dell’s in Riverhead, said his restaurant has actually seen a decrease in business from this time last year.

“I don’t dispute the fact that there’s a lot more people out on the East End,” he said. “But I don’t think they’re in Riverhead.”

While Mr. Wirth said he believes Riverhead is improving slowly, he doesn’t think it can draw the same numbers as other areas because it doesn’t have enough tourist attractions.

“If you’re coming from New York City, you don’t know what the restaurants in downtown Riverhead are,” he said. “You know where the wineries and the beaches are.”

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Photo caption: Festival goers enjoy Harvest East End 2013 in Cutchogue. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

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