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For once, the Weather Gods seem to be smiling on Buffalo.

As Buffalo's convention and tourism marketers geared up for a long-planned direct-mail and telemarketing blitz, what better time to talk about Tuesday's placid weather than on a day when much of the East Coast was paralyzed by a major snow storm.

And talk about good timing. Just a few days before the ferocious storm, the Greater Buffalo Convention & Visitors Bureau mailed postcards to 1,600 meeting planners across the country -- postcards suggesting that Buffalo gets a bum rap for its wintry weather.

"It's certainly ironic," said Karen Miranda, the CVB's vice president of sales and service. "About half of the meeting professionals we've been trying to call are located in the storm-affected area. Some people are saying 'Hey, you guys are supposed to get the snow, not us!' It has been a really good conversation-starter."

Meeting planners received postcards on Saturday and Monday that featured the CVB's signature waterfront photo and the slogan "The Buffalo You Don't Get to See on the Weather Channel." The postcards informed the recipients that they will soon receive phone calls from marketers in Buffalo.

The three-day phone blitz began on Tuesday as sales associates from more than a dozen local hotels joined forces with bureau staffers. Armed with a list of 1,600 meeting planners, crews set up shop in Canisius College's Wehle Technology Building on Main Street. The goal: to convince event planners to consider Buffalo as a site for a future meeting or convention.

As the CVB launches its sixth annual phone-a-thon, it has been offering an incentive: Meeting planners who agree to spend five minutes on the phone will receive free 20-minute phone cards.

"We're pleased with the response," said Miranda. "Some people even told us that they had the postcards on their desks and were waiting for our calls."

The effort comes as the CVB reported a $40 million drop in the economic impact of conventions that were booked in 1999. Faced with heightened competition from cities that have recently upgraded or built new convention centers, the Buffalo region has seen a decline in the number of large, citywide conventions and an increase in smaller meetings. Miranda said the phone blitz is targeting groups that use 500 or fewer rooms.

On the first day of the drive, 195 contacts were made and 28 were logged as strong prospects. Another 31 meeting planners asked to receive additional information. But Miranda said hundreds of calls went unanswered Tuesday, because the wicked weather closed many offices in Washington, D.C., New York City, Virginia and North Carolina.

Jill Christensen, director of sales for the Radisson Hotel & Suites in Cheektowaga, was manning the phone banks Tuesday. "We joked with some people, telling them that here in Buffalo, it was a balmy 29 degrees with no snow," she said.

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