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REPORT DUE ON TOURISM AGENCIES

The question of what to do about Niagara County's two tourism marketing agencies will be the subject of an independent consultant's report due Thursday.

Orlando-based tourism marketing expert Joseph Lathrop was hired in March to analyze the tax-funded tourism marketing efforts in Niagara Falls and Niagara County and suggest improvements.

The study will be unveiled to officials at a meeting this afternoon. A public hearing on the study has been scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Thursday in Niagara Reservation State Park's Prospect Point Visitors Center.

Currently, the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, supported by the city's bed tax revenues, concentrates on attracting groups to the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center and nearby hotels.

The Niagara County Tourism Office, supported by state and county tax dollars, focuses on individual tourists and festivals, including preparation and distribution of the main Niagara County tourism booklet.

Between them, the two groups spend about $2 million annually, said State Sen. George Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda. With the assistance of Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, Maziarz secured a state grant for Niagara University to commission a study of the situation.

"We wanted to explore ways of doing things better, to get a bigger bang for the buck," said Maziarz. "It was obvious that instead of cooperating, the two agencies did not trust each other, or get along."

To avoid charges of partisanship, the university was provided with the money needed to hire an expert, an "objective bystander," Maziarz said.

Lathrop has made several trips to Western New York, he said, interviewing a wide range of people besides officials from both tourism agencies. Lathrop also sought input from tourism marketing officials in Erie County and Niagara Falls, Ont., and groups including the hotel industry, retailers and the public.

Maziarz said that although he has not yet seen Lathrop's report, he was confident that it would help Niagara County move forward in the crucial area of marketing not just Niagara Falls, but Lockport and North Tonawanda to the world's sightseers.

In addition to recommendations for structuring Niagara County's tourism marketing efforts, Lathrop was asked to provide ideas for packaging county attractions in easy-to-buy units, Maziarz said.

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