plans, seem like you are their top priority.”
For Albany, the ACC and other invest-
ments have infused New York’s historic
capital city with new energy and appeal.
With the CVB rebranding to “Discover
Albany” last fall, the city is asserting its
confidence as a destination, and as strong
leadership and vision also drive opportu-
nity in Saratoga Springs, the Capital Region
continues to affirm its strength as an Em-
pire State group magnet.
Connected via climate-controlled tunnels
and pedestrian bridges to the Empire
State Convention Center, The Egg Performing Arts Center, Times Union Center
arena and 204-room Renaissance Albany
Hotel, the ACC anchors the more than
159,000-square-foot Capital Complex,
creating Upstate New York’s largest indoor
meeting space. As ACC General Manager
Doug McClaine explained, the options that
this creates are a defining advantage.
“From 10-person meetings up to
4,000-delegate conventions, flexibility is
our key selling point,” McClaine said. “It
has already changed meeting planner
awareness and perception of Albany. Our
increased ability to host both more and
larger events means we can now engage in
sales conversations that were not possible
before. Results to date include attracting
back business that had previously outgrown Albany, allowing groups to grow and
stay in Albany, and higher attendance and
Year one “could not have been scripted
any better,” McClaine said. “We had a great
mix of events, tradeshows, meetings and
social events, large and small, and short-term bookings were extremely strong. Associations, predominantly from New York
state, made up most of our business, with
How developed was Albany’s meetings and tourism scene when you joined the
bureau as its first tourism director in 1981?
I came to the bureau, which was established in 1976, from a marketing and retail
background. Albany’s hotel occupancy tax had just been approved. For the most part,
our small staff was “learning” travel and tourism. We focused on the group tour market
because it would provide measurable results. It remains a great market for learning the
destination marketing business.
You traveled many miles and had your own significant learning experience
before becoming CEO.
In 1984, I left the bureau to work with NYS Destinations, a destination marketing firm
with clients including hotels, ski areas and Adirondack tour boats. Three years later, I
was offered the position of Deputy Commissioner of Tourism for the NYS Department of
Economic Development—working on the “I Love New York” campaign.
Spending almost five years there, I developed programs and policy that affected the industry statewide, plus national level efforts as a state director. The late ’80s presented tough
economic times for the state, which unfortunately meant presiding over draconian budget
cuts that threatened the entire program. Then, in 1992, I took the opportunity to rejoin the
bureau and come home!
How has Albany’s meetings and tourism story evolved since then?
Like many destinations, we cannot tell the meetings and tourism story often enough,
locally. Our work, still misunderstood by many, was reason for greater focus within the
region and the change as an organization from destination marketing to destination management. Without working to maintain and grow vibrant and successful tourism infrastructure, we will have little to market to the world.
For six years, through our 501(c)( 3) Foundation, we have made small grants to 40-plus
tourism related organizations, events and programs totaling $260,000. Engaged in our
community, our staff is consulted often for positive input. Overall, I am most proud of the
work we do.
How has the region’s business and economic story most changed since 1981?
We are finally breaking out of our “Government Town” reputation. Government and state
association business remain vital, but opportunity has greatly expanded, with education,
technology, bio-medical, photovoltaic, pharma, chip fab and even gaming all now part of
the region’s DNA.
What are your reflections on seeing the vision of a dedicated convention center
come to fruition?
It has been a true team effort, even though many team members have changed through
the years. I have a copy of an original proposal published in 1985, and the Albany Capital
Center (ACC) is not too far from that vision. I have other archived proposals, but once
the site was determined, the team effort really kicked in. Faced with many challenging
decisions, the well-guided Authority Board stayed the course, completing on time and on
budget a facility that New York’s capital city can market with pride.
Where you do see Albany’s meetings industry heading in the future?
Technology meetings alone, often attracting global participation, are creating a steady
buzz of business activity. With the ACC already providing new opportunities to showcase
the destination, the emergence of the Capital Complex and its four connected venues will
provide even greater future opportunity.
Any special plans for your retirement?
At this point, I am more focused on cleaning up 25 years of files! I would like to remain
active, though, perhaps in travel. I prefer to think of this not necessarily as retirement,
but more as the next act.
Q&A with Michele Vennard // outgoing President
and CEO // Albany County CVB ( www.albany.org)
EMPIRE STATE PLAZA & NEW
YORK STATE CAPITOL, ALBANY