Travel, tourism spending surges in Schenectady County

Travel, tourism spending surges in Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — For a second year in a row, travel and tourism spending has surged in Schenectady County, increasing at more than triple the rate of the Capital Region and state.

Travelers’ spending increased 16 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the annual survey commissioned by Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency. This compared with 4.6 percent regionwide and 4.4 percent statewide.

The jump in spending generated a 14.3 percent increase in state taxes and an 18.5 percent increase in local taxes in Schenectady County in 2017.

Total spending by non-residents came to $279.7 million in 2017 in Schenectady County. That spending went beyond tourism to encompass most forms of spending by non-residents. Lodging is the largest part, followed by food/beverage, transportation, retail/service and recreation.

Officials on Tuesday said the flurry of hotel construction in Schenectady County in recent years, and the creation of destination-level attractions, is the driver of the increased travel/tourism spending.

“Before you do sales, you have to have a product,” said Mark Eagan, president and CEO of the Capital Region Chamber. “You have to do product development. What Schenectady County has done well in the last few years is really building out the product — the tourism destination product.”

He cited the arrival of Rivers Casino & Resort, new restaurants countywide, new hotels and the aquarium at ViaPort Rotterdam as contributing factors.

Stockade Inn owner Jeff McDonald, who is also a county legislator and chair of Discover Schenectady, said summertime in the streets of downtown Schenectady is one of the most visible demonstrations of what’s changed in recent years.

“Years ago, it was a ghost town,” he said. “They’re doing events at [Mohawk Harbor]. They’re doing events downtown. It’s a combination of a lot of moving parts.

McDonald also credited the dramatic increase in available hotel rooms: More guests spend more money that gets included in the annual tally of traveler spending.

“We now have some major chain hotels in Schenectady that are attracting people who might have stayed elsewhere,” he said.

Albany County was the 2017 leader in traveler spending in the Capital Region at $970 million, followed by Saratoga County at $540 million. 

But from 2015 to 2017, spending increased only 0.24 percent in Albany County and 8.8 percent in Saratoga County, compared with 34 percent in Schenectady County.

Schoharie County is another place with strong but mixed results: Spending there decreased 1.6 percent from 2015 to 2016, then increased 11.3 percent in 2017.

But 2018 could see another decrease, said Ron Ketelsen, Schoharie County’s director of tourism.

“Our biggest challenge in Schoharie County right now is lodging, so we’re going to have to address that,” he said. There simply aren’t enough rooms available to accommodate a large number of travelers, especially tour bus operations, he said.

One recent development in Schoharie County has been the profusion of deluxe tents offered online — through Tentrr Inc. — by local entrepreneurs catering to the glamping (or glamour camping) traveler.

It’s often no cheaper for the traveler to glamp in a tent than sleep in a motel room, but it’s much less expensive for the site owner to set up a tent than to build a motel.

“We’re starting to see a big, big interest in that,” Ketelsen said.

Lodging shortage aside, the 11.3 percent increase in 2017 was welcome news, he said.

“It was very positive. We were happy to see those results,” he said. He said the Beekman Boys are creating new things locally, but mainly, the growth has come through existing destinations.

“I think it’s been more of an effort in promoting some of the attractions we have,” Ketelsen said. Outdoor magazines are among the vehicles for that promotion, he added.

Discover Schenectady, the county’s tourism and convention bureau, will attempt to keep the momentum going in 2018. There are only so many new hotels and attractions that can be built, but there is always more that can be done to promote the ones that are here now, said Becky Daniels, executive director of Discover Schenectady.

“We’ve seen a jump in our supply and demand with three new hotels coming online in the last year and a half,” she said. 

With all those available rooms, new craft breweries and restaurants, the casino, and an established roster of events, the opportunity exists to brand the county as a destination, she said. That hasn’t happened yet, but it is the goal moving forward, she said.

TRAVELER SPENDING

Travel and tourism spending in Capital Region counties in 2017, and the percentage change from 2016

  • Albany $970M 0.1%
  • Fulton $58.4M 4.2%
  • Montgomery $40.3M 3.2%
  • Rensselaer $129.2M 7.3%
  • Saratoga $540.3M 7.0%
  • Schenectady $279.7M 16.0%
  • Schoharie $58.9M 11.3%
  • Region $2.01B 4.6%
  • State $67.63B 4.4%

Source: Tourism Economics, via Empire State Development