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Years of planning seem to be paying off for the city this week as about 500 bus tour operators get a firsthand experience of Niagara Falls in winter and the Festival of Lights.

The tour operators are among 2,000 delegates to the American Bus Association Marketplace, an annual trade show for the bus and travel industry, which started here Sunday and ends Friday.

The motor coach operators are the delegates that city tourism officials most want to impress because they have the ability to bring busloads of travelers -- and spenders -- here.

And, so far, it seems to be working. Motorcoach operators from Minnesota, North Carolina, Maryland and Wisconsin were all singing the city's praises Tuesday and promising to take the word back home.

Ed Hubers of Hubers Bus Service said he will absolutely promote Niagara Falls to his customers in Glen Burnie, Md. Hubers said he brought bus tours to this area for many years as a driver. But, even though he dropped his passengers off at many local attractions, he never realized "how much was there."

Hubers said he never even saw Goat Island before. This week, as one of the convention delegates, Hubers got to see Goat Island and more. He said his company brings six to eight buses here every year, though never in the winter -- up until now.

"I absolutely will (promote it), particularly the Niagara Falls, N.Y., side," he said.

That's part of the importance of hosting the annual trade show because it provides the host area with the opportunity to showcase what it has to offer, according to George T. Snyder Jr., executive vice president of the ABA.

And, a successful show can yield big returns for the host city, Snyder said. The year after hosting the 1985 convention, Kansas City experienced a 300 percent increase in motorcoach traffic.

Snyder estimates that a motorcoach yields a community $3,000 to $4,000 a night. Mark Gatley, executive director of the Niagara Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that figure is just an average and can be higher.

A customs inspection of a bus re-entering Canada during the first weekend of the Festival of Lights turned up $13,000 worth of goods that had been purchased here, Gatley said.

Roy Akins, a tourism sales manager with the Division of Tourism, is at the trade show promoting the state for the Department of Economic Development. He said that in 1989 motorcoach business was worth $600 million to New York State. That figure was up 4.5 percent from $489 million in 1988, he said.

Niagara Falls tourism promoters, such as Gatley, have been attending the trade show for years, selling Niagara Falls in words and pictures, but "seeing is believing," Snyder said.

He called the hospitality being shown to delegates on both sides of the border "absolutely phenomenal."

Tuesday night, 1,600 delegates boarded 30 buses for a trip to the Buffalo Convention Center and a night of competition in the "ABA World Games" -- a chance for the city to promote the World University Games to be held in Buffalo in 1993.

Corey Geis of Upstate Transit Inc. of Saratoga Springs, thought Monday's snowfall just added to the excitement of the Festival of Lights. His company already brings in 30 to 40 buses a year and has three senior citizens groups here right now. He said during Sunday night's reception at the Skylon Tower in Canada, he looked down and saw three of his buses unloading passengers at the foot of the tower.

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