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Tourism group expands scope
Binational Alliance eyes other industries

The Binational Tourism Alliance is thinking bigger with its annual summit this week.

The meeting will explore how U.S.-Canada collaboration can stimulate economic growth, in tourism as well as other industries.

The fifth annual economic and tourism summit takes place Thursday and Friday in Conference Center Niagara Falls and is expected to draw 300 people.

The Binational Tourism Alliance, with offices in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, Ont., is not a marketing group. Instead, it aims to break down barriers to tourism and cultural development. Arlene White, the executive director, said the border should not be an impediment, "just the way it doesn't stop the Falls from being on one side or the other."

This year's summit will look at how other regions "reinvented" their economies through innovative manufacturing, tourism and cultural development during previous recessions or downturns.

A panel discussion will feature speakers from Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Kitchener, Ont.; the Pacific Northwest; and the "Mega Region" of California that partners San Diego, the Imperial Valley and Mexico's Baja California.

Buffalo Niagara and Southern Ontario have things in common with those regions, such as cross-border business connections or research facilities that can foster economic growth, White said.

The summit will also tackle topics such as global tourism, logistics and high-speed rail that have implications for the region.

Collaboration is a watchword for White. She says Buffalo Niagara and Southern Ontario stand to benefit from increasing cross-border teamwork in any number of areas, be it tourism, academia or economic development. Jointly promote a greater number of tourist attractions, and a visitor might book a longer trip to see them, she said.

White said the cross-border efforts should also extend across industry lines, to maximize growth potential.

One such example: medical tourism. With the region home to a number of well-regarded medical facilities, it could be promoted as a place for patients to travel to for procedures and then recuperate in an area hotel for a stay, White said.

"There is no limit to what we could be doing if we had a strong, united plan," she said.

The area's tourism industry could use a boost this year, after a 2009 marked by a downbeat economy, unfavorable summer weather and the swine flu outbreak.

Buffalo Niagara and Southern Ontario have a strong interest in cultivating a vibrant tourist economy and efficient border crossings. Niagara Falls serves as a tourism magnet for both sides of the water, and the region's four vehicle bridges are essential to international travel and commerce.

James Sandoro, first vice president of the Binational Tourism Alliance, said the group helps tie together the interests of tourist attractions around the area, with the Falls as the focal point. "Our whole thing was, how do we wire everyone together, all the circuits around the region," said Sandoro, who opened the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum several years ago.

Alliance members have had to cope with the impact of the stricter requirements for crossing the border. The group has devoted its energies to adapting to those changes, Sandoro said.

For instance, the alliance promoted enhanced driver's licenses as a lower-cost alternative to passports and is encouraging residents to sign up for NEXUS as a quicker option for crossing the border, Sandoro said.

A study published earlier this year by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute and a companion organization in the Pacific Northwest highlighted the impact of activity all along the U.S.-Canada border.

The "Border Barometer," released last month, said the value of trade between the United States and Canada declined 9 percent in 2008, and auto and truck traffic was down almost 5 percent in that same period.
The study, a joint publication with the Border Policy Research Institute of Western Washington University, said the downward trends were likely influenced by the recession and tighter border controls.

More tourism opportunities for both the U.S. and Canada are on the horizon, such as the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Even sooner, the World Junior Hockey Championship is coming to Buffalo later this year.

Members of the alliance want to be ready to draw the visitors, Sandoro said. "We've got to show people all the cool stuff we have here."

More information about the summit is available at www.btapartners.com.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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