Greater Rochester sees uptick in travel and tourism despite high gas and airfare prices

Summer means traveling. And for Monroe County and the greater Rochester region, travel and tourism generally adds up to a billion-dollar industry.

That market was affected in the last two years, but it is recovering. Hotel occupancy in the entire Rochester metro region sits at just over 50%; It hasn’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, but it has erased half of the drop experienced during the pandemic, said Don Jeffries, president and CEO of VisitRochester.

“Everything, at least locally, looks very good. Like it’s a good comeback,” Jeffries said.

“Actually, to date, we’re on par (or a little bit) ahead of Syracuse, ahead of Buffalo, in terms of occupancy and rates. So we’re very happy with what we see.”

A tourist market involves group travel, for business meetings, conferences, sports tournaments. Those groups may be smaller in size but in number? The best month VisitRochester has ever had was June 2018 with 40 events. Last month, they had 39.

“So, you know, as far as that goes, it looks like we’re back,” Jeffries said. “Definitely back.”

A message left at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center was not immediately returned.

Nationwide, business travel is said to be lagging behind and is still years away from making a comeback. Spending on food and beverage, meeting space and ancillary services continues to lag behind, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Leisure travel is what’s back, they say. And hotel occupancy, which hit record lows during the pandemic, is projected to top 60% again this year, approaching pre-pandemic levels.

The national occupancy figures seem to be slightly ahead of the local ones.

A big hurdle in hospitality here and nationally has been finding people to fill jobs. But Jeffries said there are also positive signs.

The greater Rochester region also relies heavily on people traveling by car. It is not surprising. One-fifth of the US population lives within 300 miles of the City of Flowers and can make the trip in five hours or less.

But Jeffries says gas prices don’t seem to be keeping people home.

“And you say, yeah, five bucks a gallon,” Jeffries said. “Maybe people are going to say, ‘No, I’m not going.’ But try putting a family of four on a plane these days at ticket prices. And driving even at five dollars a gallon is much more affordable.”

That said, the Greater Rochester International Airport is also experiencing an increase in travel. there is traffic double what it was a year ago, and trending upward toward pre-pandemic levels.