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NIAGARA AWAITING PAYOFF FROM TOUR GROUP PARLEY; AFTER INTERNATIONAL BASH FOR 2,000, AREA HOPES FOR GIGANTIC BOOST IN BUSINESS

The Niagara area put its best foot forward for 2,000 motor coach and travel industry members last week and now must wait for the results to come in.

The big payoff should start in about 12 months, said George T. Snyder Jr., executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Bus Association, which ended its week-long Marketplace here Friday.

"A year from now I would hope to get a report like Kansas City," Snyder said. A year after Kansas City was host for the 1985 Marketplace, its motor coach business increased 300 percent.

The Marketplace is the annual convention of more than 2,000 motor coach and travel industry members of the American Bus Association, the national organization representing intercity, tour and charter bus operators. During the Marketplace, travel industry representatives try to sell motor coach operators on bringing tours to their area.

If Snyder's comments are any indication, the 10 years of efforts to bring the annual Marketplace here will pay off in a big way.

"Phenomenal, fantastic," he said. "Words cannot describe it. The whole region treated us well."

The annual Marketplace was held in the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, but was an international event, with the Convention and Visitors bureaus of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Niagara Falls, Ont., plus Buffalo, New York State and the Province of Ontario as hosts.

Mark Gatley, executive director of the Niagara Falls, N.Y., Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the cooperation between the usually competing entities "unprecedented." He estimated the cost of wooing and bringing the event here -- which was shared by all of the parties -- at about $500,000 over the past four years.

But, if the efforts pay off with just a 10 percent increase in overnight motor coach business next year, that will mean $2.5 million in new income for the community, Gatley said.

A few years ago, Gatley said local tourism officials estimated that 20,000 motor coaches came to this area every year. But the majority stayed in Canada.

As part of its Marketplace efforts, the bureau targeted 36 of those motor coach operators who are not sending overnight tours here. It called the companies "Our Magic 10 percent" and asked service personnel in stores, restaurants and hotels to be especially gracious to delegates from those companies.

Gatley says the event also should help build the area's image. In addition to 500 motor coach tour operators, representatives of hotels, attractions and destinations from all over this country and Canada attended the gathering.

Meetings were held in the Convention and Civic Center, but evening social events and tours also were held in Niagara Falls, Ont., and in Buffalo, so the delegates got a firsthand look at the area.

Snyder said both Niagara Falls and Buffalo easily can be used by motor coach operators for "a hub and spoke effect," in which one of the cities would serve as a home base for several days, with daily side trips to nearby destinations, such as Toronto or Erie, Pa.

He said the area should see a big increase in that kind of business and in business during the spring and fall seasons.

Both have been goals of local tourism officials, who have been striving to extend the length of visitors' stays and the traditionally strong summer season by increasing business in the fall and spring.

That will be a true test of the Marketplace's long-term effect said John Oliver, director of tourism for the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Written evaluations by Marketplace delegates won't be available until February, but Snyder said he heard favorable comments about the attractions, facilities, hospitality and friendliness of people in the area.

"People didn't want to leave," he said, adding, "We love New York. We love Ontario."

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