NIAGARA FALLS – Everyone who makes their living in the tourism industry in the Niagara Falls area is talking about it.
Summer 2016 was reported as an all-time high, with the Niagara USA Official Visitor Center, assisting over 103,000 people, a 16 percent increase over 2015.
“I watched the old movie ‘Niagara’ with Marilyn Monroe and I said, ‘Hey let’s go,’” said David Sage of Monmouth, Ill. visiting Niagara Falls on Thursday with his wife of 33 years, Jeanette. It was their first vacation in 21 years and they spent two days doing it all, from Cave of the Winds, to the Over the Falls tour, the Aquarium, fireworks, and of course the Maid of the Mist, just like Marilyn.
But there also a more modern twist at Niagara Falls – Pokemon Go.
Justin Devoe and Dean Goranites, both of Kenmore were enjoying the “beautiful new walkways” while they searched for their virtual prey.
“It’s really good down there. There’s a lot of sweet spots,” said Goranites of the Pokemon search. “We found out about it online and came down to check it out.”
Tourists who have traveled the world are coming to Niagara Falls.
“I’ve traveled to most of the seven wonders of the world,” said Sanjana Subha, of Florida, originally from Bangladesh. “Niagara Falls is one of them. We stayed in Canada for three days and I think I like the view better.”
“The view here is like we’ve never seen,” said her traveling companion Soblina Mazumder. “This is a natural view you cannot get anywhere.”
Andy and JoAnne Lemaire of Rutherford, N.J., came “for a little bit of adventure” and planned to stay three or four days.
“We heard the view was better on the New York side,” said Joanne Lemaire, conspiratorily.
Don Nigbor who lives near Houston, Texas visited the Canadian side of Niagara Falls last year, but this year he was back to show family and friends around on the U.S. side of the falls.
“We didn’t have as much time to monkey around going over the border,” said Nigbor. “It’s simpler than having to deal with passports. We save time coming here.”
A Frederick, Co., couple, Michael and Wanda Morris said they weren’t too interested in the Canada side. Since they retired eight years ago, they decided to go to every state in the United States.
“(Niagara Falls) is on the list,” said Wanda Morris. “And we had never been to New York.”
Tourism officials are marketing more than just the falls in the Niagara region.
The New York Power Authority’s Power Vista attraction re-opened on June 9 with more than 50 new interactive games and exhibits after an extensive five-month renovation. In July alone the number of visitors jumped from 6,827 in 2015 to 10,655, a 56 percent hike.
Some of the increase in volume of visitors to the NYPA site was credited to it being included in the state park’s Discovery Pass, as well as being a stop on the new Discover Niagara Shuttle, which has increased access to some of Niagara USA’s major attractions.
Old Fort Niagara, which is a shuttle stop in nearby Youngstown, also had a strong summer, too, with a 22 percent increase in visitors from 2015.
“We have had a very robust season and saw increases in both international and domestic visitation,” said Old Fort Niagara Executive Director Robert Emerson.
John Percy, president and CEO of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Center, said tourism officials have been focusing their marketing efforts on all there is to see and do throughout all of Niagara County, from Niagara Falls to Lockport and “everything in between.”
He said they have updated their marketing in print materials and launched a digital campaign in the spring that has “had enormous success” with over 4.5 million views.
Discover Niagara Shuttle, the free bus that takes tourists each day to 12 destinations on a 14-mile route between Niagara Falls and Fort Ontario, adds another layer, offering visitors increased access to attractions, encouraging tourists to stay longer and explore further, he said.
“This is getting people to see there is more than just the falls,” said Brett Stewart, vice president of revenue management for Merani Hotel Group.
Visitors are staying a second or third day to see the attractions throughout the region, he said.
“We’ve seen steady growth since 2008, but the growth from 2015 to 2016 has been incredible, record-setting,” saidStewart, whose company runs the Four Points by Sheraton, the Holiday Inn and is building the Double Tree Inn. “It’s been a great, great season.”
Pat Proctor of Rainbow Air, helicopter tours, said their summer season was up 25 percent over 2015. He said a second aircraft was added to handle more charters so they could continue to take care of the heavy tourist traffic.
Large crowds were also coming to Old Falls Street, a three-block strip featuring outdoor activities between Niagara Falls State Park and the Conference & Events Center.
“Our job is to get them on the street and from there push them into the city. It’s a domino effect by having all these partners,” said Jason Murgia, general manager of the Conference & Events Center. “We’re all working together.”
He said their Fourth of July carnival was very successful. Another event, Slow Roll Buffalo came to Niagara Falls in June and drew 400 riders. Murgia said events such as the Blues Festival are a draw in booking conventions on these weekends.
In fact the summer was so popular that festivals are starting to spread into the fall season.
The new Boots, Brews, and Bacon Festival was moved into the fall on Friday and Saturday because every weekend was packed, said promoter Rick Crogan, of Balabans LLC. His group also promoted the Niagara Falls Music and Art Festival in June.
“It’s late September and some hotels are sold out,” said Crogan, noting a lot of older couples without kids are traveling once the school year starts. “There’s so many events. It’s so busy. It’s great.”
Percy said they have seen increased visits into September and earlier in the spring, which is where they will be focusing their marketing efforts.
“We are no longer a Memorial Day to Labor Day destination,” added Percy.