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SHOW THEM THE DINOSAURS, AND THEY WILL COME

In the world of tourism, Buffalo is not regarded as a world-class destination. It's not Rome. It's not New Orleans. But that's no reason to disregard the potential for attracting visitors here and showing them a good time, Buffalo-style. We seem to specialize in keeping our good features hidden from view. Some hometowners even pooh-pooh the idea that visitors might be able to find enjoyment of any sort in our city.

So it's welcome news that the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau has put together a tourist package linked to a big dinosaur exhibit coming in 1998 to the Buffalo Museum of Science. It will be the first time the bureau has worked out such a package with a local cultural institution, but it certainly should not be the last.

The bureau will be promoting "Bare Bones" low-cost get-aways for families with the dinosaurs as the central feature. There will be 20 hotels in the Buffalo area offering family package deals as low as $56 including overnight accommodations, breakfast and museum admission.

Beginning Jan. 31 and running through June 30, the museum's main exhibition hall will be home to about 15 animated dinosaurs made of silicone and steel by a California company. Of course, it will be a major local attraction, especially appealing to children awed by the notion that such big creatures once wandered the earth and then, somehow, died out. But why should we keep this event to ourselves? Why let it be our secret?

The bureau will be promoting its packages in places within a day's drive of Buffalo. There will be advertising in newspapers in Syracuse, Rochester, Binghamton, Utica, Ithaca and Elmira in New York, as well as Erie and Bradford, Pa., and London and Kitchener, Ont.

The "Bare Bones" package will also be promoted with a graphic to be shown on movie screens before feature films roll in theaters in Utica, Binghamton, Elmira, Syracuse, Olean and Erie. The message: "Dinosaurs and a Bed to Hide Under."

When people sign up for the package, they will be sent a visitors guide telling about other things to do here. In addition, they get a Buffalo Value Pass book of coupons providing discounts for such things as restaurants, car rentals and other visitor attractions. Every effort should be made by the bureau, the museum and the hotels to make sure the visiting families have a good time in the Buffalo area -- the sort of good time they tell their neighbors about.

Ideally, such package deals will grow in the years ahead. We have enough entertainment, cultural and sports events in Buffalo to package many good weekends for folks in the same communities being targeted by the "Bare Bones" advertising.

It can only get better. Beginning in April 1999, such packages can add the big touring mega-musicals slated for an expanded Shea's Center for the Performing Arts.

If Buffalo cannot be a world-class destination for tourists, if it cannot be Paris or New York City, it can at least be a good-time place for regional tourism, a place where people from rural towns and cities within a day's drive can come for a full slate of activities at reasonable prices.

Roll out the welcome mat.