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Erie County beefs up tourism dollars Bureau's budget rises to $5 million in 2010

The Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau has more funding coming its way, but its latest public outreach effort doesn't cost a dime.

Erie County Executive Chris Collins announced Thursday that the county's next budget will include an 18 percent increase in funding to the tourism bureau.

Collins had held back county funding to the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau, which he perceived as underperforming. Since then, former CEO Richard S. Geiger has resigned and Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival founder Drew Cerza was named interim president and CEO of the bureau.

CVB funding, which comes bundled with Convention Center dollars, will rise from a total of $4.1 million in 2009 to $5 million next year. The CVB will receive the funds, part of which will be filtered to the Convention Center.

"Tourism is a major economic driver. I understand how those dollars multiply," said Collins.

Some of that money will go toward identifying Buffalo's target markets and nurturing relationships with those already proven successful. Recognizing the area's success with amateur sporting events and conventions, the bureau will create the Buffalo Sports Commission to play up that strength. It will also invest in more strategic advertising and creative marketing.

The budget announcement came at a news conference called to kick off the CVB's Buffalo Ambassador program, which calls on Buffalo boosters to help sell the city as a convention and tourist destination. Ambassadors are asked to promote Buffalo to their personal, professional and religious organizations in hopes of persuading them to hold meetings, conventions and events in the city.

Ambassadors, who can sign up at www.BuffaloAmbassador.com, receive member discounts to area attractions as well as a free T-shirt.

"We have a staff of about 20 people. How cool would it be to have a staff of 20,000 people making those connections for us and helping us sell Buffalo?" said Cerza. "It's becoming easier and easier to sell Buffalo."

Bob O'Malley, a Buffalo Ambassador, agreed. A Buffalo transplant from Philadelphia, the certified athletic trainer was instrumental in persuading the Eastern Athletic Trainers Association to host its January 2013 meeting in Buffalo. It wasn't an easy sell, since members weren't thrilled with a meeting held here in 1998.

"So much has changed since then. I was able to convince them there would be places to go and things to see," said O'Malley.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com

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