By Patrick Kaler
As Buffalo’s hospitality industry takes a moment to celebrate its successes and contemplate its future, it’s difficult not to be impressed by how far we’ve come.
Since 2000, Erie County has added nearly 3,000 hotel rooms to our inventory. We’ve doubled the bed tax that’s collected each year from out-of-town guests from $5 million to $10 million, with more growth projected. We’ve spent more than $800 million on new attractions, accommodations and infrastructure. We’ve re-built our waterfront, restored historic architecture and reinvigorated our parks.
Visitors can now sip a stout at one of our many craft breweries or buy an organic taco from a gourmet food truck; they can rent bikes to explore the city, paddle their way up the Buffalo River and take tours by Segway, bus, boat or self-propelled mega bike – developments beyond the imagination of Buffalonians just a generation ago. In short, we’ve summoned the will to reinvent our city, and as a result the quality and variety of experiences we have to offer have never been greater.
So, yes, let’s take a bow for a job well done. But before we get carried away with self-congratulations, New Buffalo, let’s remember that our competitors have been doing much the same. Milwaukee built the Harley Davidson Museum. Cincinnati added the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Pittsburgh now has the Andy Warhol Museum to stand alongside its Carnegie Museums. Cleveland has used the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the cornerstone of its downtown redevelopment. Pure Michigan just launched a $12 million campaign promoting Detroit’s comeback. Tourism as an economic development strategy has been embraced by cities large and small across the country for the simple reason that spending by visitors at restaurants, attractions, hotels and stores creates jobs and adds to sales and bed tax collections.
So we’re not the only ones playing this game. Competition for visitors and the new dollars they bring into a community is fierce. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and continue to reimagine and rebuild our region. New developments on the horizon will only add to our appeal: the continued transformation of the Outer Harbor, the completion of the Darwin Martin House restoration, the opening of the Hotel Henry and the Buffalo Architecture Center, the expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a restored Botanical Gardens, a solar carousel, a relocated Explore & More Children’s Museum on the waterfront. The list is extensive and keeps on growing.
So there’s reason for optimism as we look to the future, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that we can’t rest on our New Buffalo laurels if we expect to compete in one of the 21st century’s greatest growth industries – tourism.
Patrick Kaler is the president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara.