Everyone who lives in or has visited Saratoga Springs knows it’s a tourist town. Sure, there’s a healthy cohort of locals who keep the economy chugging along in the offseason months, but summer—specifically, track season—is when local businesses make the big bucks. So, when the COVID-19 crisis took the Spa City’s moneymaker away, the future didn’t look all that bright.
Not about to roll over and let Saratoga’s peak season go to waste, the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce got to work. It commissioned Mind Genomics, a Saratoga-based company that uses machine learning to identify consumer preferences for big-time clients such as IBM and Amazon, to figure out how to get tourists to town, despite the absence of fans at the track and canceled classical and Live Nation seasons at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The results of the survey, which were released on July 8, concluded that 71 percent of respondents were “very likely” to visit Saratoga County over the six months, granted that safety protocols were in place at local establishments and there were ample opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Based on those data, the chamber put together a multiplatform, countywide advertising campaign called Feel the Freedom. “The content we created was all about outdoors,” Chamber President Todd Shimkus says. “Outdoor dining, outdoor breweries, boating, running, hiking, mountains, lakes. In the couple of cases where we showed businesses either in Ballston Spa or in Schuylerville, all of the employees were wearing masks, because that was the other thing that the data said people wanted to see.” Over the next month and a half, the campaign, spread out over TV, digital and social media ad space, garnered more than five million impressions.
Now, the big question is whether the survey and resulting campaign were effective. “We definitely know that hotel occupancy in Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County, July versus June, was higher,” says Shimkus. Speaking of hotels, Shimkus also says that because of the survey, many hospitality providers have changed their M.O. “Previously, customer service would’ve been making sure you’re welcoming people, asking them if they need anything, helping them, serving them. And that sort of switched. Now, they all knew when people walked into a hotel lobby, they wanted to see people cleaning. So that’s what they have people doing in many of the hotels. There are just people constantly out front, in the open—broad daylight—cleaning, because that’s what people want to see.”
It remains to be seen whether that 71 percent of survey respondents—roughly 2,300 people—actually come to Saratoga County before the end of the year. But one thing’s for certain: A cleaner, greener Saratoga is something 100 percent of anybody can get behind.