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Greater Rochester seeing rebound in travel and tourism despite high gas and airline ticket prices

Summertime means travel. And for Monroe County and the greater Rochester region, travel and tourism typically add up to a $1 billion industry.

That market took a hit the past couple of years but is rebounding. Hotel occupancy across the greater Rochester region sits at just more than 50% -- still not back to pre-pandemic levels but having erased half the drop experienced during the pandemic, said Don Jeffries, president and CEO of VisitRochester.

“Everything, at least locally, is looking very good. Like it's a good recovery,” Jeffries said.

“We're actually, year to date, on par with (or a) little ahead of Syracuse, ahead of Buffalo, as far as occupancy and rates. So we're very pleased at what we see.”

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

“So, you know, as far as that goes, we look like we're back,” Jeffries said. “Definitely back.”

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

Nationally, business travel is said to be lagging with a return still years away. Spending on food and beverage, meeting space and ancillary services continues to lag, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Leisure travel is what has returned, they say. And hotel occupancy, which saw historic lows during the pandemic, is projected to top 60% again this year, nearing pre-pandemic levels.

National numbers on occupancy appear to be trending slightly ahead of those locally.

A big obstacle in hospitality here and nationally has been finding people to fill the jobs. But Jeffries said there are positive signs there as well.

The greater Rochester region also heavily relies on people traveling by car. Not surprising. One fifth of the U.S. population lives within a 300-mile radius of the Flower City, and can make the drive 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 to go.’ But try putting a family of four on an airplane these days at what the ticket prices are. And driving even at five bucks a gallon is much more affordable.”

That said, the Greater Rochester International Airport is seeing increased travel as well. Traffic there is double what it was a year ago, and trending upward toward pre-pandemic levels.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.