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Saranac Lakers debate ROOST’s benefit

SARANAC LAKE — Some residents here are critical of the village’s decision to renew its contract with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, questioning ROOST’s benefit for the region.

Based in Lake Placid, ROOST is the marketing organization for Lake Placid and Essex County, Hamilton County, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Piercefield.

Saranac Lake village mayor Clyde Rabideau and ROOST CEO Jim McKenna say the organization does a lot to bring visitors, events and money to Saranac Lake and the area.

The Saranac Lake village board approved a three-year, $37,500 contract with ROOST for tourism marketing last month.

Shaun Kittle, a former ROOST employee, is not a fan of the organization. He says he resigned in October 2019. He believes the company isn’t transparent enough with how it spends taxpayer money.

“I don’t know of any other contractor that’s allowed to just operate on, ‘Take our word for it,'” Kittle said.

The village’s new contract does not come with a budget of what exactly the money will be spent on.

At a board meeting in May, Rabideau asked how ROOST measures success.

ROOST Director of Digital Strategy Jasen Lawrence said it’s difficult to pin down exact results. The results are not easily tangible, but ROOST officials cite rising occupancy rates at hotels and positive feedback from people who take their surveys as signs that what the organization is doing is working.

Lawrence said ROOST’s marketing emails, which includes Saranac Lake-specific emails, have two to four times as much engagement and open rates as the market average. He said these lead to people traveling here.

Rabideau called ROOST’s goals and results “fluid.”

McKenna said, last year aside, the hotel occupancy tax collection rate has risen in the Essex County side of the village each year since ROOST started marketing Saranac Lake. He said May 2021 had surpassed where the rate was at the same time in 2019.

Saranac Lake resident Fred Balzac said ROOST does a good job of marketing Lake Placid and its businesses by bringing in big events, but added, “I don’t think this is the kind of thing we need in Saranac Lake.

“If anything, as we saw during COVID, we need to avoid an over-reliance on tourism and really diversify our local economy,” Balzac said.

Rabideau said Saranac Lake relies on tourism. He called it the “foundation” of the local economy.

He said the village is also investing in other industries, like bio-medical technology, but that there are few options to choose from.

“I challenge the naysayers to come up with their own ideas of their own industries that make sense for Saranac Lake,” Rabideau said.

What does ROOST do?

Rabideau said Saranac Lake has a busy few years coming up, as Lake Placid has secured the 2023 World University Games and the village of Saranac Lake is trying to secure the 2024 World Snowshoe Championship.

He said ROOST helped get the bid for the 2017 World Snowshoe Championship.

The World University Games will bring a lot of people into the area and that Saranac Lake will need help to get the most out of it, he said.

Rabideau said he would personally put $12,500 into any one of these projects and that he doesn’t consider it to be a lot of money.

“It think it’s money well spent,” Rabideau said.

Rabideau also said ROOST brings in travel channels and writers; creates signs and banners for the village; consults on the Saranac Lake 6er hiking challenge and processes its members; and markets the whole region.

He said Saranac Lake can’t do this itself.

Marketing Director Michelle Clement said ROOST pitches the area to travel writers and tries to get Saranac Lake on “top 10” tourism lists.

Clement said the new saranaclake.com website launched in June with thousands of pages and a more image-focused design. She said it took a lot of work to get this done.

Saranac Lake resident David Lynch took issue with ROOST’s website management. He said it is not search engine optimized, which drives traffic to a website; uses free services to do website data analytics; and is not designed to fit mobile screens well.

ROOST has a new Saranac Lake regional marketing manager. Kenzie Marine is a Saranac Lake native who moved away for college and returned a few years ago. She said her husband fell in love with the area, so they set down roots and she’s excited to get involved in her hometown again.

ROOST officials said they recognize tourism will not solve all of the area’s problems, but they believe it contributes to solving them. A lack of housing and staffing needs to be addressed, McKenna acknowledged.

ROOST Chief Operating Officer Mary Jane Lawrence said ROOST’s goal is to “leverage tourism to enhance the community.”

Survey says

ROOST conducts an annual travel and leisure survey to determine the return on investment the counties, towns and villages which fund its operations get.

It asks people who saw ROOST marketing — on social media, emails or elsewhere — what they did here, where they’re from, where they spent money and how ROOST influenced their decisions.

The agency’s 2020 survey sent out 13,000 survey invitations and got 3,500 responses.

The majority who visited Essex County — 69% — said ROOST reinforced existing plans to visit the Adirondacks, 14% said it inspired a trip and 14% said it might inspire a future trip.

ROOST determines the total economic impact it has by multiplying the number of inquiries to ROOST by how many respondents said it influenced their decision to come, how much the average traveler spent in a day and their length of stay.

ROOST received 168,000 inquiries in 2020. The report says this is a 40% decrease from the prior year.

“None of which is a surprise in an unprecedented pandemic year,” the report reads.

This number is multiplied by 82% — the 69% who said ROOST reinforced their decision and the 14% who said ROOST inspired a trip. This is then multiplied by $283 spent per day and then multiplied by 6.7 nights stayed. This results in a total estimated revenue of $261,345,113 for 2020.

Then, to determine a return on investment ROOST divides the total revenue by money spent by ROOST — $3,266,422 in 2020.

This results in a 70-to-1 return on investment for every dollar spent, according to ROOST.