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Buffalo must develop an underappreciated asset

More people visit gardens each year than visit Disney World and Disney Land, combined more than 40 million. This is the teaser for the forthcoming book by Richard Benfield, the man who wrote the book on garden tourism, titled "Garden Tourism."

With little research and data on U.S. horticultural tourism, I contacted Benfield to find out what he might share. He proclaimed himself to be the nation's leading expert on garden tourism -- because there is no one else. And, since I had good questions, he offered that I was the nation's second leading expert on garden tourism.

Garden tourism is an untapped segment of the travel industry. Few U.S. cities have considered promoting their garden assets to out-of-town audiences. And by few, I mean Philadelphia.

Buffalo has an abundance of tourist-worthy garden destinations and events and a thriving gardening community. We have a historic botanical garden, Olmsted Parks and the nation's largest garden tour. Our 17 area garden tours feature more than 900 gardens! We have serious garden cred in authors Sally Cunningham, Mike Shadrack and blogger Elizabeth Licata.

The ArtsMarket report to the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau ("Buffalo as an International Center for Architecture, Design and the Arts") was focused on art and architecture attractions, but gardens and gardening activities emerged as an opportunity to increase a visitor's length of stay. In fact, the report stated, "interest in botanical gardens may be the key link among all the visitor groups."

As to how to enhance our image and grow tourism market share, ArtsMarket offered: "Garden tours, neighborhood walking tours give visitors the opportunity to soak in the city's beauty, and to take home ideas to apply to their own historic homes and gardens. Workshops and festivals add to the opportunity to learn and take ideas home."

The report recommended: Buffalo should respond to visitor curiosity by creating and offering:

*Gardens and garden tours, including the Olmsted Parks and the Botanical Gardens.

*Scheduled symposia or events, including annual events that attract national attention.

This summer, area culturals and garden groups are working together to launch the National Buffalo Garden Festival, leveraging our assets and adding events such as a front-yard garden competition, garden-themed motor-coach tours, weekday open gardens, exhibitions, speakers, seminars and more. In July, we're hosting 70 garden writers and bloggers, from 23 states and Canada.

And now, by having read this to the end, you may now consider yourself to be the country's third leading garden tourism expert.

Jim Charlier is president of Garden Walk Buffalo and on the planning committee for the National Buffalo Garden Festival.

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