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More funding would help tourism agency promote region’s increasing catalog of attractions

It’s great news that Buffalo and the surrounding region have seen 2,000 hotel rooms added to the region’s inventory in the last seven years, and that 8 million visitors spend some time here each year. More outreach by the Visit Buffalo Niagara tourism agency will help fill those hotel rooms and allow the region to reach its full potential, but that will require money.

This year, Visit Buffalo Niagara received $3.3 million from the county, an amount that hasn’t increased much since the red budget/green budget financial crisis of a decade ago. Despite a modest uptick in spending, inflation has decreased Visit Buffalo Niagara’s buying power. Grand Rapids, Mich., a comparable city, spends a couple of million dollars more on tourism than the Buffalo Niagara region.

Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, is on the right track in announcing at a recent news conference expanded visitor center hours and increased advertising and use of social media to get people talking about the area. But he should not have to work on a shoestring budget. Not when so much has been invested in a list of attractions that continues to grow.

Consider the oft-mentioned Canalside, HarborCenter and Outer Harbor, cultural draws such as the Richardson Olmsted Complex (soon to open its own hotel), Graycliff Estate, the Roycroft Campus, Darwin Martin House, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Shea’s Performing Arts Center and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural site, among many other gems. Entire business sectors like craft beer and food trucks have sprung up. It all contributes to a better story about Buffalo, but one that could use more resources to tell.

Visitors are coming here in part because of email marketing, media relations, social media, movie productions and at times a favorable exchange rate with Canada, in addition to successful efforts to attract large conventions and events such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the NCAA basketball tournament.

But those efforts can only do so much.

The Regional Economic Development Council recognizes the need to push tourism and Visit Buffalo Niagara is seeking to draw visitors through the Canadian Marketing Initiative, a $500,000 undertaking jointly funded by Visit Buffalo Niagara, Empire State Development and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.

The needle can be moved further and faster, but it’s difficult when funding for sales and marketing for Buffalo’s resurgence has essentially been flat.

We are becoming more visitor-ready all the time, but to see an accompanying spike in tourism requires a full-fledged marketing effort.