Hello and Happy New Year!
I think we are all thankful that 2020 is in the rearview mirror. The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the tourism economy, and will most certainly have long term effects on the future of our industry. With that in mind I wanted to take a moment to recap 2020 and take a look toward 2021 from the Visit Syracuse lens.
Since the pandemic began in March, our team has ramped up priorities to support stakeholders, to the best of our abilities. The focus was largely on the local audience, encouraging them to support regional establishments. Our target audience changed nearly every day, and we adapted. I am fortunate that I have a dedicated team that dug in during this pandemic and achieved some incredible results. They really have been the glue that has kept Onondaga County relevant in the world of destination marketing throughout this crisis.
Like many businesses and non-profit organizations, our budget at Visit Syracuse was dramatically impacted. Tough choices had to be made, particularly regarding staff. Four full time and six part time positions were eliminated. Despite that unfortunate consequence, I can say confidently that our focus was to solidify the future, and not sacrifice it. As of January, 2021 is a little unsettled from a funding standpoint. Our budget was reduced by roughly 50% when compared to typical years. However, two bright spots exist on the horizon that could dig us out and provide much needed resources. The new PPP legislation now includes organizations like ours, a 501c6, and we are moving forward to take advantage of that funding opportunity. Also, as 2020 wound to a close, the Governor signed the ROT increase legislation that will generate additional resources for us as well. This legislation increases the percentage of room tax charged to visitors that stay in Onondaga County hotels from 5 to 7% with the intention of directing a portion of the increase to destination marketing efforts.
One of the highlights of 2020 was the opening of the new Visit Syracuse/Visit Syracuse Film office in the iconic State Tower Building in Historic Hanover Square. Since 2012, Visit Syracuse had shared space with CenterState CEO on W. Fayette St. While the space was certainly adequate, it made it difficult for us to draw visitors in, and compromised our visibility. We are now pleased to announce that we have our own home, located on the ground floor of the building, with a direct entrance across from City Hall Commons. It gives us high traffic, visibility, and the store front we have always desired. We have incredible space that was designed pre-COVID and built-out over the last year. We have advanced air filtration, sanitizing stations, contact tracing software, front entrance facial-recognition security, and all of the critical components to make our environment one of the safest in the County. Our door is always open to you, and we look forward to hosting many events in our new digs!
Typically, our main role is to promote our wonderful destination, and showcase all of the great things to see and do while in our region. Since the start of the pandemic, our biggest role is that of trust. Tourists' expectations have changed and these customers are looking for trust, responsibility and safety. As a whole the tourism industry must transform to meet this need and find a way to balance travel and safety. Safety was top of mind in both our marketing and film efforts this past year as we worked to get the word out that the region was reopening following recommended guidelines. Read more about our film and marketing efforts during COVID and moving forward through 2021 in the links below.
In terms of sales production, building confidence in Syracuse was our primary effort. Despite 2020 being one of the most challenging years for sales production, our team did a phenomenal job of working with our customer base to ensure that their safety and well-being was a top priority. The proof that our approach is working shows up in our year end numbers, where you'll see that our team has hit all annual goals for four straight years! We did not lower expectations in the pandemic, in fact I asked them for more and they delivered. Take a look at our four year climb in the links below.
In closing, I am extremely optimistic that Visit Syracuse and Visit Syracuse Film are in a great position now and especially when our economy reopens. The year 2020 was tough, challenging, daunting, and very emotional. It has made our team tougher, stronger, safer, tighter, and appreciative for what we have in this great region. Our sense of community is stronger than ever. In the long run, I believe that 2020 has prepared us for the future. I look forward to joining you in reclaiming our tourism economy. It can’t get here soon enough!
Visit Syracuse President & CEO, Danny Liedka