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For Niagara tourism, best May in 20 years

In recent appearances before the Niagara County Legislature and the Lockport Common Council, the chief of the countywide tourism promotion agency touted his organization's successes despite budget struggles.

John Percy, president and chief executive officer of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., said this May was the best in 20 years in terms of hotel occupancy rates in the county -- room nights in use were up 14.4 percent from 2006.

Percy said the major factors were good spring weather and the fact the corporation's advertising campaign started in May this year instead of in July, as was the case in 2006.

The corporation was hamstrung much of last year because of a long-running dispute over how to divide the local share of the Seneca Niagara Casino's slot machine revenue -- that was supposed to be a major source of the NTCC's budget.

Despite that, in 2006 the organization produced a 16-to-1 return on the dollars it spent in terms of visits, publicity and staff time, Percy said, claiming almost $35.9 million in economic impact from leads generated by the corporation's $2.2 million budget.

The agency's information centers accounted for the sale of 4,213 hotel room nights and 18,000 tours last year, Percy reported.

Hotel occupancy for all of 2006 was up 6.5 percent from 2005, and hotel revenue was up 24.9 percent, Percy said.

Last year, the corporation distributed 500,000 copies of the county visitor guide, a figure Percy said will be matched this year. He intends to increase that to 700,000 by next year and to 1 million by 2010.

Niagara NOW, the magazine the corporation places in hotel rooms, moved 70,000 copies last year.

Also, the NTCC intends a heavier media presence next year in markets such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Erie, Pa., with radio commercials making the point that there's more to do in Niagara County than visit the falls for a day.

"I know there is this thought that we do not promote Lockport or Niagara County. That is not true," Percy said.

Besides casino money, the NTCC's budget comes from the "bed tax" on hotel and motel rooms. It collects about $1 million from that source in Niagara Falls, $67,000 from Lockport and $40,000 from the rest of the county.


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