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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Schenectady Tourism Authorities Express Optimism Over Hotel Proposals

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As the summer tourism season looms, Todd Garofano, the executive director of Discovery Schenectady, is eagerly ⁤awaiting the​ approval of two new hotels in Schenectady County.

With many hotels in the county already fully‌ booked, Garofano is hoping for more accommodation options to cater to the influx of tourists visiting the region. “We are in dire need of them,” Garofano said, referring to the proposed hotels — one in Schenectady and one in Glenville. “Several weekends this summer and fall are already fully booked, and ‌we’re having to overflow overnight rooms to nearby locations ⁣like Albany and ⁢Clifton Park. We’re at a point where we need new inventory.”

Garofano’s wish ⁤may soon be‌ granted.

This week, Schenectady city planners‌ will review site plans for a proposed 100-room Hyatt House ⁢hotel at Mohawk Harbor for the first time. Meanwhile, ‍Glenville ⁤lawmakers are ⁣expected to lift a moratorium enacted last year that blocked the construction of new hotels in​ town. This will allow Matrix Hotels’ plans for a 125-room hotel at 38 Freemans Bridge Road to enter the review process.

The potential addition of 225 hotel rooms to the existing ​1,100 in Schenectady County⁤ is an exciting prospect. Not only for Garofano, who ⁣spearheads the ⁤county’s tourism efforts, but also‌ for business leaders, tourism officials in neighboring ⁣counties, and local economic development officials. They believe the growing hospitality sector reflects ​ongoing efforts to boost ‌the region and lays the groundwork for future growth.

The proposed hotels would add to the 460 overnight rooms that have been available in ​the county since⁢ 2017. They would also complement a $50 million arena and events center currently under construction at Mohawk Harbor, ‌which officials believe will further increase the demand ⁢for⁤ overnight accommodations.

David Buicko, CEO ⁢of the Galesi Group, believes there is a need for additional hotel space ⁢at the harbor, even without the arena​ and events center. He cites popular attractions like Rivers Casino and prominent nearby businesses like GE Vernova and Momentive as reasons. “It’s where people want to be,” he said.

During a recent tour of the harbor, Buicko ‌said the arena, which will be owned and operated by the Galesi⁣ Group, will help the county ⁣attract regional sports tournaments and conventions. This will benefit the ⁤entire Capital Region and elevate Schenectady County tourism ​to new heights. “This⁤ is ⁣going to ⁣put Schenectady on a different level,” he said.

Ray Gillen, chair of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority’s board⁤ of directors, sees the need‌ for overnight accommodations⁢ as ‍a “positive sign” and evidence that years of redevelopment efforts have paid off. “It’s a sign that good things are happening in the economy,” he said. “It’s good that the demand for hotel rooms⁢ is increasing, because ⁢it means more people are coming here to do ‌business.”

THE GROWTH OF TOURISM

Tourism is a significant economic driver throughout‌ New York, contributing $123 billion in total impact in 2022, according to⁢ a Tourism Economics report⁣ commissioned last ⁣year by Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm.

The industry took a hit with the onset of the ⁣coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, when travel restrictions were implemented to curb the spread of ⁤the virus. However, the sector has bounced back, surpassing the $117 billion in economic impact seen in 2019, a year before the pandemic, according to the study.

Schenectady County is no exception.

Tourism spending in the county rose to $387⁤ million in 2022 ⁣— $59 million, or 18%, more than the $328 million spent in 2019, according to the Tourism Economics ⁣report. The report found that the tourism sector accounted for around 7,000 jobs in Schenectady County as of‌ two years ago.

“We’ve been building this over the last few years after ⁣COVID,” Garofano said. “We’ve rebounded. We’ve far surpassed ​our 2019 numbers.”

Schenectady County⁤ is home to 19 hotels that range from boutique establishments offering a few dozen rooms⁢ to larger national chains with​ more than 100 rooms, according to a recent report from Smith​ Travel Research, an⁣ industry group that⁣ tracks hotel performance.

The report found that average occupancy rates across the hotels ⁣in the county have been steadily increasing, growing from 53.5% in ​2021 to⁢ 65.7% in 2023. Average occupancy rates peaked at 81% across the hotels in August 2023, according to the report.

However, Garofano pointed out that these figures are only averages. He said that some hotels ⁣were fully booked for ⁢periods last year while hosting large conventions and other gatherings. This trend, he said,⁢ highlights the need for a variety of local hotel options that can accommodate everything from a large wedding party to simple overnight stays.⁤ “We need versatility,” Garofano ⁣said. “We need to be able ‌to do all of that.”

A BOOST FOR BUSINESS

Subhash Modasra, vice president of the Mohawk Hospitality Group, is looking forward to the prospect of additional local hotels. He admits that this might surprise some people, given his role overseeing ⁣operations of ⁣the Comfort Inn‍ & Suites in Scotia‍ and soon the same namesake hotel in Saratoga Springs.

Modasra said the need for ​additional ⁢hotel space locally ‍reflects what he called “demand drivers” like the Mohawk Harbor arena ‍and⁣ a proposal to construct an aquatic center at the ViaPort mall in Rotterdam.⁤ Both facilities, he said, have the⁤ potential to introduce ‌Schenectady County to a new set⁢ of visitors that could boost all local businesses.

“I think it’s great that it’s not just two properties being introduced to the market, it’s a ​very large demand driver coming into the market being brand new, and then we have more inventory on the heels of that,” he said. “It’s a real big compliment for all these new groups that are looking at⁤ this market.”

Garofano agreed that the sports complexes create a new market for Schenectady County tourists — one that Discovery Schenectady has been actively trying to reach — but‌ noted that visitors‌ to the region don’t just come for ‍recreation or ⁣leisure affairs.

Many, he said, come on business, including⁤ executives​ from major businesses like GE⁤ Vernova in Schenectady, Momentive in Niskayuna, and BelGioioso Cheese in Glenville. Union⁣ College ⁢and the 109th Airlift Wing in Glenville‍ also bring frequent visitors to the region who stay at ‌local hotels.

“It’s a layering effect,” said Garofano, ​noting the diversity of visitors ‍brings people in not only on the weekends but ⁢during the week, when business can⁣ be ⁤slow ‍at some establishments.

Gillen believes the diverse tourism market creates opportunities for everything from major attractions like Rivers​ Casino to small restaurants and other businesses found throughout the county. The frequent visitors, he said, make the region more appealing to those looking to invest. “It all comes together to fill rooms and create more opportunities in the market,” Gillen said.

THE POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH

Philip Morris, the CEO of Proctors Collaborative, welcomes the plans to build new local hotels.

Proctors books⁣ hundreds of hotel stays throughout the year to accommodate cast and crew members for visiting productions and other events at the popular downtown theater. Stays typically last a week for visiting Broadway productions‍ but, several⁣ times a ‍year, the ‌theater hosts six-week residencies for major touring‍ productions.

“We are a huge engine for hotels,” Morris said.

Most of the time, cast⁤ and crew members can be accommodated at three hotels in proximity⁣ to the theater, but​ booking ‍a block of rooms has become increasingly​ difficult even a year out, said Morris. He noted there have been occasions when bookers have reserved rooms as far away as Wolf Road in Colonie.

“Can‍ I say that I can enunciate the⁣ demand? No, that’s somebody else’s business,” Morris said. “But I can say ⁤that it would help us to keep all of our performers close.”

But it’s not just ⁤Schenectady County-based officials ⁢that are excited about the prospect of a growing hotel market.

Jill Delaney, executive ⁢director of Discover ‌Albany, said she believes a growing Schenectady market opens things up for neighboring Albany County and ⁢could benefit the Capital Region as a whole.

Hotel capacity is something large⁣ event promoters look at carefully before booking an event and having a diverse hotel space makes landing major events like the men’s or women’s NCAA basketball tournaments‌ more⁣ likely.

When the woman’s NCAA Division I basketball tournament came to Albany​ last month, the lack of proper‍ accommodations to house teams in close proximity​ to MVP Arena became a topic of conversation.

“There’s a⁢ limitation on which​ hotels can even be part of bids for these larger⁤ events,” Delaney said. “So it’s very important ⁣to know not only what we have here in Albany County, but what our neighboring‍ counties can supply to us.”

Garofano, meanwhile, acknowledged that new hotels in‌ Schenectady County will create‍ more competition, but believes everything will balance out in the long term. “We certainly compete but we also cooperate,” he said.

Modasra shares the same mindset. “I think there’s always going to be people who are like, ‘less ⁣hotels, less hotels, less hotels,’” he said. “I don’t think that can ever be our mindset. We⁤ are hopefully seeing the big picture and being ‍optimistic, too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ‍a little bit of optimism.”

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Emily Stanton
Emily Stanton
Emily Stanton, a skillful journalist previously based in Boston, is adept at covering a diverse array of stories. Her thorough and engaging reporting style, honed with a Master's in Journalism from Boston University, focuses on community-relevant stories.
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3 COMMENTS

  1. I disagree with their optimism. The focus should be on improving existing infrastructure before pursuing new hotel proposals.

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