SCHENECTADY COUNTY — After staying quiet through months of setup, Schenectady County’s new tourism and convention bureau expects to assume a higher profile and start marketing the county’s attractions.
There are plans for a website launch in late winter, and to continue building up the staff, which until last week consisted of only one person.
But already, the previous Visit Schenectady brand has been renamed Discover Schenectady, with a strategy of encouraging Capital Region residents who haven’t been to Schenectady in recent years to visit and see how much has changed, with the revitalization of downtown and the opening of businesses, including Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor.
“We don’t want you to just visit, we want you to come stay, visit, explore,” said Becky Daniels, the tourism bureau’s director and, until recently, its only employee.
Local people and former Schenectady residents still in the region will be an initial target audience, but marketing could go beyond that in the future.
“In these first couple of years, we want to start locally and regionally and build on that,” Daniels said.
Daniels, a 31-year-old Schenectady native who attended Syracuse University and previously worked in digital marketing and customer service at General Electric’s alternative energy business, was hired in May after more than 90 people applied for the job, said County Legislator Jeff McDonald, chairman of the bureau’s 17-member board. Those members include representatives of various businesses and organizations that could benefit from tourism.
“We were excited that Becky was home-grown, and with her digital marketing experience at GE,” McDonald said. “Social media is where it’s at now.”
Discover Schenectady Director Becky Daniels and Jeff McDonald, chairman of the tourism bureau, at the Discover Schenectady office in Schenectady. (Stephen Williams)
While Saratoga County, in particular, has had a strong tourism marketing program for decades, Schenectady’s has been lower profile, managed by Proctors, the downtown performing arts complex. But in 2016, with the pending opening of Rivers Casino, county officials decided to establish a bureau — overseen by the county — that could promote not just the casino and Proctors but other destinations, like the ViaPort Rotterdam aquarium. Three craft breweries have opened in the county in recent years, and new businesses, including a Druthers brew pub, are going to be opening at Mohawk Harbor.
In its first major coup, the bureau has attracted the annual conference of the Empire State Tourism Association, which will come to Rivers Casino in April. It’s a chance to show Schenectady County to tourism promotion professionals from around the state.
“With conventions, it used to be just about price. But now, it’s about the overall experience,” said McDonald, who owns The Stockade Inn in Schenectady.
He said the bureau’s low profile in 2017 was due to the need to establish an office — it now has a suite just off Broadway downtown — and hire staff, as well as the practicalities of setting up a new business.
“You’re always anxious, but we quickly learned that you want to be slow and strategic, rather than push and make mistakes,” he said.
The board hired Tempest Interactive Media, of Philadelphia, to design the county’s tourism website. Tempest specializes in tourism promotion websites, with a client list that includes Louisville, Kentucky; Jacksonville, Florida; and Long Beach, California. It is developing what officials say will be a highly interactive site, expected to be ready to debut by March.
“When you see everything Schenectady has to offer all in one place, it’s very impressive,” McDonald said.
The bureau, which had a $392,000 budget last year and a $417,000 budget this year, is funded with Schenectady County’s room occupancy tax and other sources, including the state’s I Love NY program.
In addition to Daniels and the new sales and marketing associate, the bureau expects to hire two more employees by the end of the year, McDonald said.