Summer tourism wrapping up with season ‘back on track’ from pandemic

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With the busy summer tourism season winding down, businesses and tourist attraction operators are optimistic that the local industry is back to normal and that the COVID-19 pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror.

An influx of travelers is expected for the last big weekend of the summer with people having three days off for Labor Day and kids not going back to school until next week.

The Blues in the Bay annual music festival is expected to draw crowds to wrap up the summer.

Blues bands will perform Friday night to Monday afternoon in Alexandria Bay.

The Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Double Barrel Blues Band, performing from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, host the festival. A craft fair will also be held Saturday and Sunday in the pavilion at Scenic View Park.

Mary Compeau, chamber president, is looking forward to the 21st blues festival with a headlining act of Miller and the Other Sinners, a popular Buffalo-based band.

“We should expect a lot of Canadians after two years of the lockdown,” she said.

The leisure and recreation sector of the tourism industry bounced back last summer, said Corey C. Fram, director of the Thousands Islands International Tourism Council.

And this summer the local hotel industry has rebounded, Mr. Fram said. In 2021, area hotels still were impacted by the effects of the pandemic.

But he’s heard that hotels in and around Watertown all are having big years, with business picking up for weddings, corporate meetings and small business gatherings.

“We’re doing well,” said Jody Pettit, general manager for Watertown’s Hilton Garden Inn, 1290 Arsenal St. “It’s been a busy summer.”

In July, the hotel had an occupancy rate of more than 80% and in August, it hit 86%. Weekends were fully booked, she said.

“Let’s hope it’s a trend that happens for years to come,” she said.

To help travelers look for a room, Hilton Garden Inn employees have had to call Syracuse and Ogdensburg because the region’s hospitality industry was completely sold out, she said.

Business meetings have returned, she said. Bus coaches full of travelers are also back. There were less Zoom meetings and more in-person gatherings and a trend of government entities using the Hilton Garden Inn’s amenities also increased.

The Holiday Inn Express next door also experienced that kind of success, she said.

During the height of the pandemic, the wedding market basically dried up, with couples initially inviting just 20 guests and then maybe 50 people later on. But big weddings of 200 are back; guests are no longer afraid of traveling, she said. Three weddings are booked for Labor Day weekend alone.

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