Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Winter’s Dream: Coalition bullish despite soft start

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Attendance is considerably short of projections at the Winter’s Dream attraction at Fort William Henry, but Warren County Winter Coalition officials tell The Chronicle they remain bullish on the attraction, its ability to bring Occupancy Tax dollars to the county, and their prospects for paying back the $3 million Occupancy Tax “seed” grant they received to launch the attraction.

“The Coalition is committed,” says Sam Luciano, head of the Winter Coalition and president of Fort William Henry. “We will definitely get something back to the county.

It may be a very small amount, maybe a little bit larger. We just don’t know until we get the final numbers.

“But we’re committed, we gave our word, and we would never go back on our word to give it back.”

Christian Dutcher, the Americade director who is running the show for the Winter Coalition, told the Warren County Tourism Committee last Monday that 19,500 visitors had attended Winter’s Dream to date.

“December was a huge month for us,” Mr. Dutcher tells The Chronicle. “We had 12,000-plus people come through. That’s a remarkable feat…for a brand new event.”

That’s an average of about 500 people a night, they said. Capacity is 600 an hour. “We’ve had a few Saturdays where we had almost 1,500 people,” they said.

When plans for the project were unveiled last year, they were projecting 120,000 visitors in year one. It is scheduled to continue through March.

County Administrator John Taflan says, “Given the unpredictable weather, we believe the attendance is very respectable and are optimistic for the future of Winter’s Dream for the remainder of this year and going forward. We are confident the Coalition will be able to meet their agreement with the County.”

Sara Mannix of Mannix Marketing said, “It’s a multi year thing that obviously could not be done, with all the investment we put in this year, right in one year.”

Ms. Mannix notes, “There were only seven days” in December when it wasn’t raining “or predicted rain” on nights that Winter’s Dream was open.

“Mother Nature was very cruel,” Mr. Dutcher said. “You know the intention of this whole thing was to be weatherproof. We didn’t cancel one show because of weather, which is fantastic.

“But it definitely affects customer behavior. I would say we’re weatherproof. Customers aren’t. As good a December as we had it could have been so much better, had it not rained so much.”

“February is the big wildcard,” Mr. Dutcher adds. “There’s no other Northeast destination like us, especially in the month of February. We’ve got the Winter Carnival, Winter Realms (at the Festival Commons) and us, and all the other ancillary things going on. My expectation is that will do quite a bit better than December. What is quite a bit? Two times, three times? It’s hard to say.”

Mr. Luciano said national economic factors such as inflation also impact tourism. “If we didn’t have the show, it would be a lot worse,” Mr. Luciano says.

“The important thing is the Occ. Tax dollars generated,” Mr. Luciano said. “That’s why this whole thing was put together, to support Warren County.”
He said industry observer Smith Travel found that Warren County’s rates and volume of hotel occupancy in December were up 7.2% over the same month in 2022.

“Not staggering numbers,” he said. “But if you look at what the competition is doing” — specifically Essex County and Lake Placid — “the competing counties, some of them are dropping, including Essex, by double digit numbers.”

What about the cost?

Peak weekend tickets cost about $30, $23 for children or seniors — potentially $100+ for a family of four.

Mr. Dutcher says: “We’re running a 91.5 or 92% satisfaction rating. The 8% that were unfavorable we found were rushing through the experience and not understanding that there’s a storyline behind it.” He said they rarely see complaints about the cost.

“It’s going great,” he says. “Customer response is very good. We get lots of superlatives. The show has proven, as expected, popular among adults, but it’s also a huge hit with people with young kids, and that caught me a little flat.”

On pricing Coalition members point to discounts on weekdays, plus an added 20% off for locals in the 518 region on Mondays, sponsored by Price Chopper’s
Market 32.

“Can you think of an experience that’s less than that?” Ms. Mannix asked, comparing it to the cost of a family ski trip.

They also point to special events, like the Military Night on January 25 that was free for service members and veterans, discounted for friends and family.

Tuesday, Feb. 13, is a United Way fund-raising night, also with discounts.

Find these under “Events” on the Winter’s Dream Website, Ms. Mannix notes.

Moment Factory is in town this week to make improvements, Mr. Dutcher said, “to allow customers to engage with the show in a deeper, better way…If you’re tuned into the magic, that is happening, but if you’re not, you can easily overlook it.”

For example, he said, “If you go into the ‘Moons’ bastion, there are about to be many more moons, with the path or flow directing visitors deeper into the moons, so that it pulls you into the story. And we’re doing similar things with the Forest section.”

He said they also aim to improve the entry passage, to better alert visitors to the full offerings in each of the sections.

Mr. Luciano said the improvements are being made without charge to the Coalition, except “we will pick up some slight cost in new equipment and what not.”

“They want this to be a full success,” Mr. Luciano said of Moment Factory. “They’re partnered with us. They take a lot of pride in this show.”

Mr. Dutcher said Winter’s Dream is a new approach that Moment Factory aims to bring to other places eventually.

Copyright © 2024 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved

Check Also

CEO of Protect Our Winters

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor Harvard and Queensbury Class of 2001 grad Erin Sprague …