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NEW UNIFIED MARKETING APPROACH RECOMMENDED

A new, independent organization should handle the crucial task of marketing Niagara Falls and Niagara County to the world's sightseers, a Niagara University consultant has recommended.

Current efforts, handled by two agencies, are "inherently redundant, at times inconsistent with one another, subject to lapses in coverage, and severely hampered by run-down facilities, high costs and limited amenities," consultant Joseph Lathrop wrote in his report.

Instead of the traditional city-against-county disputes, Lathrop said, Niagara tourism has to understand that it's one product, with everyone prospering or failing together.

The pitch for a new approach to marketing Niagara County was to be the focus of a public hearing this afternoon in the Prospect Point Visitors Center, at the Niagara Reservation State Park. Lathrop, a veteran Orlando, Fla.-based tourism marketing consultant, was scheduled to present the recommendations with political leaders and tourism officials.

A $3 million nonprofit corporation, funded by the state, county and marketing partners, could be ready by July 2002 if the plan gains the community's support, Lathrop said.

The corporation would operate under a three-year contract with those who fund it, pegged to meeting specific performance goals, Lathrop proposed. In sample language that could be part of the eventual agreement, he suggested a 15-to-1 return on investment as the goal. In other words, the new agency would be required to show that it generated $15 in tourist spending for each $1 of support.

In recent years, the Niagara marketing mission has been split between the Niagara County Tourism Office and the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau. That has mirrored long-standing friction between county and city interests, which must end for Niagara to approach its potential, Lathrop wrote.

"Constituents must understand and believe that either the county and the city can both be successful, or neither can be successful," he continued. "The symbiotic nature of the product and the relationships prohibit individual success."

That's why the corporation's board will unite city and county officials with business and park interests, Lathrop wrote. They will have to make the tough decisions together.

"These decisions will not always be popular, and they may not appear to be in the short-term best interest of certain segments of the constituency," Lathrop wrote. "But these strategic decisions are critical to serve the long-term interests of the entire county."

According to Lathrop, new features the agency should address include:

An extensive research capability to identify and target niche markets, monitor industry trends and measure performance.

Creative packaging of the county product and expanded exposure within targeted markets.

Support for ongoing Web site development and e-commerce capability.

Development and maintenance of a visitor database.

Generating substantial cooperative resources from partners.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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