The recent Tom Brady slap at Buffalo hotels has prompted me to offer my outsider's perspective about something that has bothered me for years. Why is this place not a bigger tourist destination? My answer has nothing to do with the Blizzard of '77. I think the real reason tourists don't come here is that the people are too friendly.
Although I come from Wisconsin, this has been my home for more than 20 years. In those years, I have come to love Buffalo and many of the things that it has to offer. Some of those things you can simply enjoy, like the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the theater life. Other things, including the restaurant scene, take a while to figure out.
The first thing I discovered when I came to Buffalo is how friendly people are -- how willing they were to tip me off to the good places to live, eat, shop, etc. I went to church and within a month had found a doctor, a dentist and all the other contacts I needed to get settled.
But since tourists don't go to church here before they decide to come here, that friendliness doesn't help the tourist industry as much as a good guidebook would.
Why isn't there a good tourist guide to Buffalo? Maybe it's because a tourist guide seems like a cold and impersonal substitute for personal recommendations.
The restaurant scene in Buffalo actually takes longer to figure out than most things. My defining moment in a Buffalo restaurant came at Hutch's. Sure, you can order off the menu, but why would you want to just pick something off a preprinted menu when you can negotiate a special with a friendly waiter? How did I find out about that? Someone from work took me there.
Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that anyone become less friendly. What I am saying is that we rely too heavily on friendly at the expense of marketing. It is not either/or -- it needs to be both.
There are websites that promote Buffalo, but apparently not enough to bring a Ritz Carlton to town. (I actually don't recommend reinventing Buffalo just so Brady will like coming here). But if we want more tourists, we need to add some outreach.
So how do we market Buffalo? How do we work our way up to being a major tourist destination? Here is an idea: How about we start with the people willing to wait for hours at the border to get here -- the Canadians? My wife was born in Toronto and still works in Canada. She tells me that there are more advertisements there for an outlet mall in Erie, Pa., than there are for anything in Western New York.
When I was growing up in Wisconsin, the unofficial motto of the tourism industry was "Keep Wisconsin green, bring money." How many stores in Buffalo advertise that they take Canadian money? How many of them are set up to accept Canadian money (or even traveler's checks)? Since we are a border city, maybe foreign exchange should be a local specialty.
And getting back to that wait, we need to build -- not debate -- a 12-lane Peace Bridge. I know lots of this is preaching to the (friendly faces in) the choir. But if the Arab Spring can overthrow dictators, maybe the Buffalo Spring can get us a new bridge.
Ted Lightfoot, of Amherst, loves Buffalo and its friendly people, but thinks we should do more to promote tourism.