In 2019, tourism in Oneida County brought in an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue, and Kelly Blazosky, the president of Oneida County Tourism, is hopeful that this year it will bring in even more.
“It’s a significant industry for Oneida County, as well as the general Central New York region,” said Blazosky.
She was happy to share some metrics that bode well for the industry, one of them being that this year’s Cycle the Erie Canal Bike Tour, which will make a stop in Rome in July, already has sold all of its tickets in only a few weeks time. That event will host 700 participants.
“It’s exciting to see those kinds of things happening,” said Blazosky. “For it to sell out early is a good indicator that things are on the right track.”
Blazosky also stated that the county’s hotel occupancies for the summer are projected to be around 7% higher than they were in 2019, suggesting that overall tourism in Oneida County this summer may even have a chance to surpass its pre-pandemic levels.
When asked what brings tourists to Oneida County, Blazosky had a hard time listing every attraction off the top of her head; The Munson-Williams Proctor Art Institute’s annual arts festival, canal fests in Rome and Sylvan Beach, events and concerts at Turning Stone Resort Casino and Vernon Downs, the Cycle the Erie Canal Bike Tour, and the Boilermaker Race and Woodsmen Field Days were a few .
Whether it be festivals, casinos, concerts or marathons, there’s no shortage of reasons for people from all over to come to Oneida County.
“Normally we have people from 47 states and, in normal years, upwards of 18 to 20 different countries,” said Mark Donovan, president of the Boilermaker Road Race.
Boilermaker is an annual nonprofit marathon event that attracts thousands of runners each year to run in its 5k and 15k races. The event is capped off each year with a very popular after party at the Saranac Brewery. This year will mark its 45th annual race, and the first time in two years that it will be relatively unaffected by COVID restrictions.
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“In ’20 we had to go virtual, and in ’21 we moved it to October,” said Donovan. “Every year its always the second Sunday in July, but in ’21 we moved it out because of COVID, just to edge against possible cancellation.”
Donovan stated that on “average” years, the Boilermaker brings in around 19,000 racers and $10 million in revenue. Unfortunately, this year Donovan said there will only be around 11,000 racers. On the bright side, that is a marked improvement over last year’s Boilermaker, which saw only around 4,000 racers in total.
Boilermaker isn’t the only event trying to outshine the shadow cast by COVID. Phyllis W. White, the executive coordinator of the Woodsmen Field Days, said that COVID did “a lot of damage to our organization.”
The Field Days are a series of competitions held at the Oneida County Fairgrounds in Boonville that pit the best lumberjacks and woodsmen from around the world against one another in various events. White stated that there would be “40 of the best men” competing from countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This year will mark its 75th competition, “no thanks to COVID” according to White.
For the past two years, the event was unable to be held, which has had a crippling effect on the many fundraisers, community events and scholarships that the event supports, said White.
White also stated many of the vendors who frequented the event had gone out of business, and shared concerns that the price of gas could provide a daunting obstacle for potential spectators of this year’s event. In spite of these issues, her concerns about her have been mostly quelled by the outpouring of support that White has received from the community.
“We are getting a great response right now and I am so happy,” said White. “For a while I was very worried about the price at the pump, and the feedback that I’ve been hearing from families, the average citizen… the woodsmen supporters are tired of not seeing woodsmen.”
White has also stated that while many of the old vendors have gone out of business, they have had no trouble finding new ones to take their place. She also emphasized that this year would see an increase in artisans selling their crafts and wares.
Ultimately, only time will tell whether 2022 will be the year that Oneida County’s tourism industry returns to its pre-pandemic levels. But for event organizers who have been struggling to adapt to the past two years’ restrictions, it is clear that the only way for them to go this year is up.