Westchester tourism hits record-breaking $1.79 billion

By Aleesia Forni

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Tourists flocked to Westchester County in 2015, spending a record $1,793,365,000 over the course of the year. The year was the second-straight in which visitor spending reached record levels and marked a 3 percent growth from the $1.74 billion spent in 2014.

“These numbers show that Westchester County continues to be a leading destination for business and pleasure in the state of New York,” County Executive Robert P. Astorino said in a statement. “Year after year, Westchester attracts more visitors, and that’s great news for the growth of our economy and county as a whole.”

The data was compiled by Tourism Economics, a Philadelphia-based company that cites sources including household travel surveys, industry data and information from the Regional Economic Information System.

New York state also saw a record number of dollars spent by tourists in 2015. Visitor spending hit $63.1 billion in 2015, a 1 percent increase on the year. Excluding purchases of gasoline, which fell due to a nearly 30 percent decline in fuel prices, spending expanded by 3.8 percent.

County officials said that tourism continues to be a significant driver of the Westchester economy, one that supported 24,036 jobs across the county in 2015. That figure grew slightly by 2 percent year over year. The industry generated local and state taxes of $216.9 million in 2015, a 4 percent increase from 2014.

According to Tourism Economics, which was commissioned by Empire State Development to study the industry in New York, visitor spending in Westchester has increased 8 percent in the past five years and 29 percent since 2009. Natasha Caputo, director of Westchester County Tourism & Film, said that visitors are attracted to the area because of the variety of experiences it offers, from remote outdoor recreation to bustling city centers.

“The backdrop is very diverse,” she said.

Visitors spent the largest part of their out-of-town dollars, roughly $504 million, in the food and beverage industry. The county attributes that spending, which marks a 6 percent increase from last year, to a growth in Westchester’s agritourism sector.

“We’re really proud of working with our farms and creating a farm tour,” Caputo said. That tour, Westchester-Grown Farm Trail, is a state-designated route that spans 17 miles from North Salem to Tarrytown. However, that initiative hasn’t quite gotten off the ground.

“It needs people to advertise and man that,” said Lucille S. Munz, director at Yorktown’s Hilltop Hanover Farm & Environmental Center, one of the farms on the trail. “It took us years to get (the farm trail) approved, so the next step is the whole marketing of that.”

When asked how the farm trail was going, Munz said, “Nowhere.”

Still, Munz said the number of travelers, especially millennials and day-trippers, heading to the farm is growing rapidly, something she attributed to a renewed focus on supporting local businesses and the proliferation of the farm-to-table movement.

“We’re seeing a huge uptick in visitors coming from the surrounding tristate area,” she said. “Also because people are looking more for these types of places. They’re more concerned with where their food comes from.”

Growth in the craft beverage industry has also helped increase tourism spending in that sector, Caputo said, with visitors taking advantage of the county’s breweries and wineries, like the new South Salem Winery and Hardscrabble Cider in North Salem.

Westchester’s tourism industry ranks third in the state behind New York City and Long Island and accounted for more than half of all visitor spending in the Hudson Valley region.

“A majority of visitors coming to town are here on business,” Caputo said, adding that Westchester’s close proximity to transportation and metro areas and its variety of hotels and accommodations make the location desirable.

Hotel activity in Westchester reached new levels in 2015, with room demand up by 8 percent. The lodging sector saw a 9 percent increase in visitor spending year-over-year.

Loretta Brooks, director of sales and marketing at Holiday Inn Mount Kisco, said she has noticed an increase in demand for rooms since 2014. That increased demand helped prompt the hotel to undergo a $6 million renovation, one that includes refurbished guest rooms, a renovated event space, a new restaurant and bar and landscaping.

“Hopefully it will help with the whole tourism mindset,” she said.

Still, Brooks said that in general, weekday guests are in town for business, while the leisure, weekend customer usually has a nearby occasion to attend.

“When I hear tourism, I’m not sure if they’re coming to tour Westchester County. Maybe they have ties to the area or the community,” she said. “I would say a lot of the guests are visiting family in the area and a lot of guests are coming in for more personal events in the area.”

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About the author

Aleesia Forni
Aleesia Forni covers transportation, tourism, nonprofits and residential real estate for the Westchester County Business Journal. She previously worked as a financial reporter for the online newsletter Prospect News. She started with the Westchester County Business Journal in April 2016.

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