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Another Voice: Tourism industry is exploding as Buffalo renews itself

By Patrick Kaler

There is plenty to celebrate in Buffalo as we join cities across the country in commemorating National Travel and Tourism Week.

Let’s rewind to the year 2000. The Inner Harbor was largely vacant and underutilized. Much of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo work was in disrepair and not yet drawing visitors from around the world. Larkin Square was a fading industrial district and the Lafayette Hotel was suffering from decades of decay.

Fast forward to today. More than 1 million visitors converged on Canalside in 2014. Larkin Square draws thousands for Food Truck Tuesdays. New and revitalized hotels like the Hotel @ the Lafayette, Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard by Marriott Canalside offer more options to overnight visitors. Attractions like the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Shea’s Performing Arts Center and Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site have been expanded or restored.

Buffalo has turned a corner as a travel destination, confirmed by recent articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Toronto Star and blogs too numerous to mention. These stories have noted and validated the investment our community has made in projects like Canalside, RiverWorks and HarborCenter and served notice that Buffalo is establishing itself as a visitor destination.

In Erie County alone, tourism employs more than 29,000 and contributes $1.6 billion to the local economy, up more than 50 percent since 2000. The sales tax generated by visitors totaled over $196 million in 2013, reducing the tax burden on every Erie County household by $500.

Visit Buffalo Niagara is working hard to keep that momentum going. Our sales department brought in meetings, conventions and sporting events in 2014 that contributed $120 million to the local economy, while our media relations department helped spread the word of our renaissance by facilitating more than 100 stories in out-of-town newspapers and websites. A new website, redesigned touring guide, award-winning video productions, new downtown visitor center and aggressive advertising campaign are all part of our effort to tell Buffalo’s story to the traveling public.

With the upcoming opening of the Hotel Henry at the Richardson Complex, potential expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the new Explore & More Children’s Museum on the waterfront, it’s safe to say that tourism’s role in Buffalo’s economy will continue to grow in future years. We’ve come such a long way in a short time – and this is only the beginning.

Patrick Kaler is president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara.