SCHENECTADY — Last year was a good year for Capital Region tourism, and Schenectady County led the region with 10.5% tourism spending growth over 2017, according to new state figures.
The county, and city of Schenectady in particular, are building on a foundation of new visitors drawn by attractions like Rivers Casino & Resort and Proctors, along with a countywide craft brewery ale trail and a host of special community events, said Becky Daniels, executive director of Discover Schenectady, the county's tourism marketing agency.
"There's really something for everyone to enjoy here," Daniels said Tuesday.
Empire State Development's Division of Travel and Tourism last week released an annual report on tourism spending in 2018 compared with 2017, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office has touted the number — $71.8 billion in direct traveler spending — as proof that the state's tourism marketing efforts are working. He said tourism directly supports more than 957,000 jobs in the state.
The numbers are based on a consultant's estimate of all spending by non-residents, including on lodging, restaurants, recreation, transportation and shopping.
New York City accounts for 65 percent of all tourism spending, according to the state. In the Capital Region, Empire State Development said tourism is a $2.1 billion industry annually, directly supporting 38,406 jobs.
Schenectady County upped its tourism marketing game in 2017 with the founding of Discover Schenectady as an independent tourism marketing agency, with an annual budget of about $500,000 from county room occupancy tax revenue and state I Love NY funds.
The county increased its marketing in anticipation of Rivers Casino opening in February 2017, and the construction of several new hotels in and around the city.
Other counties also did well in 2018, according to state figures, with both the Capital Region and the entire state averaging a 6.2% increase. While Schenectady County tourist spending was up 10.5% to $309 million, Fulton County saw a 10% increase to $64 million and Saratoga County increased 9% to $589 million. Albany County, which has nearly half the region's visitor spending at just over $1 billion, rose 3.2%. In what the state considers the Mohawk Valley, Montgomery County rose 7.1 percent to $43 million and Schoharie County rose 6.6 percent, to $63 million.
While counties like Saratoga have had strong tourism marketing programs for many years, Fulton County is similar to Schenectady in launching new promotion efforts.
“The county has dedicated programs reaching out of the Capital Region to attract tourism to Fulton County," said Ron Peters, president of the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth. "We have been tapping into the surrounding states marketing the Adirondacks and what we have to offer. Fulton County has been doing a fantastic job of marketing the enormous natural resources that we have and the beauty of the region.”
Montgomery County's marketing efforts, handled by the Fulton-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, have focused on promoting the county's long history and its access to the Mohawk River and Erie Canal Bikeway.
Schenectady County also led the Capital Region in tourism revenue growth in 2017, with an increase in traveler spending of 16% over 2016.
“These are solid numbers that speak well of our efforts to promote Schenectady County as a great place to live, work and visit. For two years in a row, we have seen increases that exceed both statewide and regional totals,” said Anthony Jasenski, D-Rotterdam, chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature.
“With the opening of Rivers Casino & Resort, the construction of several new hotels and tourism attractions, and the continued development of our dining and craft beverage offerings in the county, the County Legislature saw a need to further invest in tourism promotion to drive continued positive results for our residents and visitors,” said County Legislator Jeff McDonald, D-Schenectady, vice chairman of the Legislature and president of the board of Discover Schenectady.
Daniels said Discover Schenectady works with a number of partners, including the Metroplex Development Authority, the county's special events office, the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., other business improvement districts and individual businesses.
"A lot of these venues work together, [the recent Proctors run of the hit musical] 'Hamilton" was a great example of that," she said.
Discover Schenectady also gets thousands of hits monthly on its website and Facebook page, which promotes events and a series of videos about local restaurants. "Our social media has really exploded, which is very cool to see," she said.
With Proctors shows like "Hamilton" and "Frozen" in 2019, and the opening of a brewery in downtown Schenectady's Frog Alley, Daniels said she expects another good year, with 2019 exceeding 2018's revenue when the tally is complete in 2020.