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Be a tourist in your own town.

The Greater Buffalo Convention & Visitors Bureau will make that its rallying cry in the coming year as it launches an aggressive campaign that will feature a roving visitor center -- a recreational vehicle that will trek to local fairs, festivals and even shopping malls.

The new initiative reflects tourism studies that indicate that most out-of-town visitors come to Buffalo to see relatives and friends. CVB President Richard Geiger said based on the data, officials are convinced that one of the best ways to bolster tourism is to heighten local awareness of amenities.

"A lot of people who live here don't realize how many cultural, recreational and sports-related opportunities we have," said Geiger. "Too often, they rush their visitors out to see Niagara Falls. That's great, but we want these people to start looking at Buffalo in a different light."

The mobile visitor center will display images of area attractions and distribute brochures to people who attend events like Taste of Buffalo, the Italian Festival, the Allentown Art Festival and other major events.

"We'd even like to see the mobile visitor center head to Walden Galleria and to strategic locations in Niagara Falls (N.Y.) and Ontario," Geiger said.

About $25,000 is being budgeted for the new local initiative in the coming year and CVB officials will be talking with local media outlets about becoming sponsors.

At a meeting of the CVB board of directors Friday, Geiger also announced that the bureau is launching a pilot program in conjunction with Niagara County tourism officials to engage in joint advertising in key periodicals.

"We view this as an important step in getting people to think of tourism on a more regional level," he said.

Other key components of the CVB's marketing plan for 2000 include:

"Meet-and-greet" programs for visitors who attend major national sporting events. The initiatives will be patterned after a strategy the CVB used during the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this year when staffers staged parties and other events for out-of-town reporters. When the region hosts the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championships and the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics next year, Geiger said special efforts will be made to focus national media attention on Buffalo's assets.

A $75,000 video will be completed in the spring and will promote the region as a convention and tourism destination. Geiger said the six-minute video will be distributed to meeting planners and others in the industry.

The region will host Travel Expo 2000 in March, an event that will attract 1,200 group leaders and tour operators from across the U.S. and Canada. Geiger said this is the first time since 1991 that the Buffalo region has hosted the meeting.

"We think this is one of the most important conventions that's coming to Buffalo in 2000. These are the people who are responsible for getting other people to visit regions and it's going to be a wonderful opportunity to showcase Buffalo," Geiger said.

He also noted that Buffalo recently received a major national boost when a full-color photo of downtown was featured on the cover of a major trade magazine. "Corporate & Incentive Travel" featured a picture of the Electric Building as it was illuminated by spectacular fireworks on New Year's Eve.

"You can't buy that kind of exposure," said Geiger. "I can just hear a lot of people looking at that magazine cover and saying 'wait a minute! That can't be Buffalo!' "

The CVB board also approved a $3.1 million operating budget for the coming year, up about 5.4 percent over this year's spending. However, Geiger said more than half of the increase will be offset by a special $80,000 state grant that was secured to promote the NCAA and Junior Olympics events.

He added that the budget includes cost-of-living raises averaging about 3 percent for the bureau's 22 full-time staffers.

In other business, CVB directors re-elected Dennis P. Murphy chairman of the board. Murphy is president of InnVest Lodging Services Inc. Other board officers elected Friday include: Jonathan Dandes, chair-elect; David Hart, vice chair; Keith Belanger, treasurer, and Brenda McDuffie, secretary.

One new member was appointed to the CVB's 21-member board. Ted Pietrzak is executive director of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center.

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