December 1, 2021

CNY could see record tourism numbers this summer

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Shelley Massery, of Cortland, fuels up at the Speedway gas station on Tompkins Street after a trip out of town.

Travel officials in Cortland and Central New York expect the summer tourism season to reach record numbers despite increased gas prices and the latest variant of the coronavirus making its way to the United States.

“There is a large pent-up desire for travel, which we are already experiencing via travel guide requests and informational requests into the visitors center,” said Meghan Lawton, executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I do not anticipate that these travelers will be discouraged by much of anything. People want to travel again and are ready to travel again.”

The recent spike in fuel cost is at its highest in seven years — but even that won’t deter drivers this Fourth of July weekend.

“More than 91% of holiday travel will be by car,” said American Automobile Association representative April Engram. “The higher gas prices will not discourage travel this summer, in fact, we’re expecting record-breaking levels of car travel in July.”

Shelley Massery of Cortland spent nearly $50 filling up the tank of her sedan at Speedway Wednesday morning.

“We just got back from Connecticut last weekend, so this weekend we’re not really traveling anytime soon,” she said.

Motorists can expect a little relief at the pump following the holiday as prices fluctuate, Engram said. While prices remain above $3 a gallon, AAA expects travelers to take their vacations as planned, while looking for other ways to cut costs, such as pursuing less expensive activities or dining out less.

That price — $3.08 a gallon for regular unleaded across the state, according to the federal Energy Information Agency — is up from $2.19 a gallon a year ago.

AAA partnered with INRIX, an analytics company, to determine the worst times for traffic to be between 4 and 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays as people leave work for their weekend plans.

“With travelers eager to hit the road this summer, we’re expecting nationwide traffic volumes to increase about 15% over normal this holiday weekend,” said Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst with INRIX.

“Drivers around major metro areas must be prepared for significantly more delays.”

Looking further ahead than summer travel plans, Central New York could soon see more out-of-state visitors. Southwest Airlines plans to begin flying in and out of Syracuse by mid-November.

“Any time there is an increase in the amount of ways that a tourist can access our area is a good thing,” Lawton said.

“We were pleased to see the Southwest Airlines announcement and look forward to welcoming a new group of tourists into the area who prefer Southwest for their airline needs.”

Whether travelers are just passing through or have set Central New York as their destination, tourists have a variety of businesses and venues to choose from.

“We’re already seeing a lot of activity in our vacation rentals, Airbnbs, hotels and motels,” said Peggy Coleman, director of the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The return of live, in-person events this fall is only going to continue to drive additional visitors into our community.”

Coleman said she expects the arrival of Southwest Airlines in Syracuse to only boost Tompkins County tourism.

“It’s great whenever we can add additional carriers into our state — that means it’s more visitors coming in and being able to explore our communities, and that’s always a good thing,” she said.

An increase in visitors is always welcome at nonprofits like the CNY Living History Center, however, as the only paid employee, Executive Director Cindy Stoker said she’s always in need of volunteers.

They staff the gift shop, give tours, create exhibits and more.

“We do need volunteers with the increase in tourism — that’s even happening now,” Stoker said. “Any time that people are traveling through, it’s wonderful for us because it can be on their radar as something to do when they are in the area.”

After more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, the center is expanding its hours — now available to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and plans to host more events this fall.

“Something I want people to remember is to just be patient and to be kind — while official COVID restrictions may be lifted, many tourism businesses still do not have their full staffing capacity,” Coleman said. “So while they may be allowed to have the maximum number of people in their businesses, if they don’t have the staff to service them, there’s going to be a bit of a wait. I encourage everyone to just take a deep breath, relax a little bit and be kind to each other.”