SCHENECTADY COUNTY — Businesses, attractions and special events that bring people to Schenectady County have a new champion, with an energetic Schenectady native, Becky Daniels, heading up a re-envisioned tourism and marketing program.
Daniels, 31, last spring was named the first director of Discover Schenectady, the tourism and visitor promotion program of the Schenectady County Tourism and Convention Bureau, which was created in 2016, as the county geared up for the arrival of Rivers Casino & Resort. It is only now getting ready to roll out its efforts to draw people from around the Capital Region — and eventually beyond — to Schenectady.
A new Discover Schenectady website will debut in March after months of development, needed because officials want to take the time to get it right. "You only get one chance to make a first impression, and we want ours to be spectacular," said Daniels, who has a background in public relations and marketing.
At the same time as the website launches, Discover Schenectady will be releasing the first in a series of short videos by Michael Corcoran of Niskayuna — tentatively titled "Schenectady Eats" — that will focus on "pulling back the curtain a little" on some of Schenectady's best-known restaurants, such as The Waters Edge Lighthouse in Glenville and the Aperitivo Bistro on State Street in Schenectady. The plan is to release about one new video a month over the next year, and perhaps longer.
"It's something people will eat up — pun intended," Daniels said.
"We're really trying to focus on dining options," said Daniels, who joined the non-profit organization last May and has been working on setting up an office and developing content for the pending website. "It's something that regionally Schenectady is known for."
Discover Schenectady is replacing the former Visit Schenectady program, which the county contracted to have other entities operate. The new bureau, with a 17-member board of directors appointed by the county Legislature, is funded with a share of the county's hotel and motel room occupancy tax revenue. For this year, it will have a $419,000 budget, as it prepares to launch its website and social media and add additional people to a staff that now consists of Daniels and sales associate Jason Homan.
Daniels describes getting the chance to promote Schenectady County — from the casino to the ViaPort Rotterdam Aquarium to the historic riverfront Mabee Farm in Rotterdam — as "the dream job I didn't know existed."
She grew up in Schenectady on Willow Street, between State Street and Central Park, in what she describes as a "tight-knit neighborhood." Her step-father and mother ran a Colonie bicycle shop.
After high school, Daniels attended Syracuse University, where she majored in English and public relations, and minored in the music industry, "because I thought that's what I wanted to do." But she grew disillusioned and graduated "with the knowledge that I wasn't that sure about the music industry." She ended up staying at the university, working in the residence life office and pursuing a master's degree in educational administration.
But Daniels always returned to Schenectady, and in 2008 her older sister, Melissa, died at age 31 after a long battle with kidney disease. Daniels moved back, and today lives in the city with her terrier, Izzy.
Daniels' first job after returning was at the University at Albany, but she soon moved to a new job that honored her sister, working with organ transplant and donor families at the Center for Donation and Transplant at Albany Medical Center. After three years, she moved to doing marketing and communications at General Electric's wind and renewable energy division in Schenectady, and was there until she learned about the new tourism promotion job last spring.
"GE was great and an awesome learning experience, but I wanted to get back to something that was more of a community focus," she recalled. "I said this was my dream job that I never knew existed."
The spring's big initiative will be the launching the updated website, one that will include the usual dining, lodging and business listings, but could also include such features, potentially, as a dining blog, videos, potential day trips in Schenectady County, and interactive features. The site is being developed by Tempest Interactive Media of Philadelphia, which has worked on promoting small-to-medium sized cities across the country.
"My big focus has been on getting website content up and running," Daniels said.
In its first major coup, the bureau announced last fall that it had 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. Later in the spring, the bureau will be hosting event planners.
"With conventions, it used to be just about price. But now, it's about the overall experience," said County Legislator Jeff McDonald, D-Schenectady, chairman of the Tourism Bureau. "When you see everything Schenectady has to offer in one place, it's very impressive."
In addition to promoting established destinations, Daniels said Discover Schenectady will help promote special events that draw people, like the Summer Night, Wing Walk and Soup Stroll downtown, and may establish some special events of its own.
"We're talking to wedding planners. They aren't well known, but there are some wonderful places in the county to have a wedding," Daniels said.
The website, which is up but not yet operational, is http://discoverschenectady.com.