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Media coverage of region’s revival helps spark tourism boom

A record number of tourists are pouring into the Buffalo-Niagara region, drawn by a mix of attractions from Canalside to Niagara Falls.

“With so many new and revitalized tourist attractions, as well as huge increase of number of the hotels, it’s given us the ability to tell a new story to travel writers and event planners,” said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of the Visit Buffalo Niagara.

National and regional media outlets helped tell the new narrative about the region’s revival in more than 200 stories in 2015 - the most coverage ever in the VBN’s history.

That coverage helped generate a local tourism boom, generating record dollars.

In 2014, travelers spent $2.4 billion in Greater Niagara – Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties – according to the 2014 Economic Impact of Tourism in New York: Greater Niagara Focus by Tourism Economics. The 48,633 people working in industries serving the tourists earned $1.3 billion, the study said. And local and state governments collected $290 million in tourism generated taxes.

“It’s a number of factors – a positive perfect storm and synergy,” said John Percy, president and CEO of Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation. “I think everything’s headed in the right direction: advertising, strategic directions and tactics.”

The Buffalo Billion, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Western New York economic development initiative, is chief among them.

“Buffalo Billion has translated into so many tourism products in the Western New York region, and I think that has played into these great numbers we are seeing,” Kaler said.

Innovative marketing campaigns by local tourism bureaus, including a collaboration between Erie and Niagara counties, are also fueling growth. The agencies claim the campaign returned $28 million in economic impact through 25,000 visitor parties that generated 75,000 hotel room nights.

Additionally, a spike in international travelers, especially from China, and recent upgrades and expansions of destinations, like the Fashion Outlets of Niagara and Maid of The Mist, are drawing more tourists.

In 2014, Erie County experienced a 2.1 percent growth in tourism, and Niagara County saw a 10.6 percent hike compared to 2013. And early statistics from 2015 point to even greater gains. Niagara Falls Visitors Center saw a 160 percent increase of visitors from 2014, and a whopping 255 percent surge last month, compared to the same time a year earlier.

Percy and Kaler are expecting even greater gains in 2016.

One big attraction will be completion of the final stage of the $50-million restoration of the Darwin Martin House.

“It will be the most complete restoration of a Frank Lloyd Wright site,” Kaler said. And when you throw in Graycliff, the Fontana Boathouse, and the filling station in the Pierce Arrow Museum, “I don’t think it gets any better than Buffalo and our sites for Frank Lloyd Wright aficionados,” he said.

New boutique and high-end brands of hotels, like the Westin at 250 Delaware Avenue and the Hotel Henry in the Richardson Complex, will open in Buffalo in 2016. A Canalside’s expansion with more activities and features is planned; and the area’s growing craft-beer-scene will continue to grow when RiverWorks Beer Gardens opens, Kaler said.

In Niagara Falls, Courtyard Marriott, Fairfield Inn & Suites and Doubletree by Hilton will make their debut.

“We’re seeing brands we have not seen in our market that show these owners are investing in this community because they see the growth,” Percy said. “They know the future is bright.”

email: esapong@buffnews.com

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