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CVB funding needed Collins delivers with an investment that should pay tourism dividends

When the county executive flexed his muscles in essentially ousting the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau director and two key board members, it became incumbent upon him to find a new path to success.

He now has done so, and Chris Collins has brought with him the best remedy possible from the county -- cash.

The county's next budget will include an 18 percent increase in funding bundled with Convention Center money, meaning that CVB support will increase from a total of $4.1 million in 2009 to $5 million next year -- a far cry from the reality of several months ago, when Collins exerted pressure by withholding county funding from the bureau.

For two consecutive years, the county executive withheld more than $4 million annually from the CVB in an effort to name more board members and then to reshape top management. It worked, but that also meant Collins owned a good part of any CVB problems.

Buffalo chicken wing festival founder Drew Cerza has been operating as interim president and CEO following Richard S. Geiger's resignation back in June. Cerza has been successfully injecting zest into the wing festival and appears ready to bring that same energy to his interim post.

Moreover, Collins is pledging the county's money where it counts in an effort designed to identify Buffalo's target markets, nurture tourism and event relationships and come up with new ideas to promote the area.

There already is success upon which to build. The CVB played a major role in the emergence of Buffalo as a cultural tourism destination, an emergence now backed by studies. That doesn't solely happen by itself; garnering the national publicity and selling the tourism industry on this area's attractions are key CVB roles. Under Geiger, progress was made; Cerza now takes up the challenge of continuing that, and he must have Collins' financial support to expand an effort that is important to this region.

The bureau's plan to create the Buffalo Sports Commission, in recognition of the area's success with amateur sporting events and conventions, represents the type of innovative thinking that could enhance the chances of greater success.

The same could be said of the push to increase the number of bodies in the bureau's Buffalo Ambassador program by signing up new recruits at www.BuffaloAmbassador.com, offering member discounts to area attractions in addition to the free T-shirt.

Implementing 21st century strategies in an increasingly technological era could, in fact, result in a high return on investment. By using social networking strategies to promote the area, and at little cost, the bureau could find itself ahead of the marketing game.

Collins took on a significant amount of responsibility when he decided to force change at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Now, he's taken a good step to living up to that responsibility.

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