By Ed Healy
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “new” Buffalo – most recently in the pages of The New York Times, which named Buffalo one of its “52 Places To Go in 2018.” Restored landmarks, craft breweries, food trucks, public art, new hotels and a revitalized waterfront have given visitors to our region plenty to rave about. But the buzz about Buffalo didn’t just happen. It’s the result of a long-term vision coming to fruition.
Thirteen years ago this month, the Buffalo Niagara Cultural Tourism Initiative released its strategy for attracting visitors to our region. This document was the result of nearly two years of community meetings, focus groups, interviews and data analysis by UB’s Institute for Regional Growth and its consultants. More than 200 people participated in the study that concluded that Buffalo should aspire to be a world-class destination in which our cultural and heritage attractions “become better known, more widely admired and more frequently visited.” Investment in centerpiece attractions, infrastructure improvements, coordinated programming and targeted marketing would make Buffalo competitive in the tourism marketplace.
Thanks in no small part to this blueprint, that’s exactly what’s happening. As our region has restored its historic architecture, reinvigorated existing institutions and developed new attractions and events, visitors have followed. According to Tourism Economics of Philadelphia, Erie County’s tourism economy grew by more than 50 percent since 2005, generating expenditures of $1.7 billion in 2016.
Travel writers, journalists, bloggers, convention delegates and tourists of all kinds have been drawn to Buffalo and routinely leave town singing our praises. In the last year alone, publications ranging from USA Today to Cleveland's The Plain Dealer, Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, Time Out New York, Travel & Leisure and yes, the Scottish Sun, have enthusiastically reported on Buffalo’s resurgence. Buffalo has also earned a glowing reputation among meeting planners for successfully hosting high-profile conventions such as the Garden Communicators, the Congress for the New Urbanism, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Society for Architectural Historians, to name just a few. A recent article from Thrillist.com is typical of the response Buffalo regularly elicits these days, describing a city “chock full of culture and reinvented relics” and residents whose hospitality makes the experience all the more memorable.
Yes, it’s nice to bask in the glow of such warm validation and endorsement of what’s happening in Buffalo, but the larger point is that this hasn’t happened by accident. It’s the result of a commitment to a long-term strategy built around existing strengths such as art, gardens, food, architecture and history first recommended in the Cultural Tourism Strategy of 2005. Standing on the shoulders of the clear-sighted authors of this watershed study, the prospects for tourism in our region look brighter than ever.
Ed Healy is vice president of marketing at Visit Buffalo Niagara.