BOB CONFER: You're part of the local tourism industry

Bob Confer

Every summer my family and I spend a week in the Adirondacks. Every time we go I am impressed by how every business and resident goes out of their way to treat visitors like gold. I guess we are gold to them … a precious commodity because the entire economy within the Adirondacks is based on some form of tourism. They do this because, of course, they love our money but also because they truly love where they live.

Now, compare that to what takes place in Niagara County.

I often get the sense that tourists get short shrift here from too many of our residents. Despite more than three-quarters of billion dollars spent annually on tourism activities in the county, some locals look at tourists with disdain — they are using “our” parks and roads or there are “too many” Canadian license plates at our malls.

That’s silly and self-defeating. Every person living and working here should follow the lead of our fellow New Yorkers and show exuberance not only for our visitors but also for the incredible assets we have here.

Without them, our economy would tank. Sixteen thousand workers are employed in tourism and hospitality in Niagara County. Maybe your neighbor is one of them. Maybe you are. Their/our livelihoods are dependent on people visiting Niagara Falls, the Gorge, the Erie Canal, the Niagara Wine Trail and our world-class fisheries.

Our governments — and, in turn our pocketbooks — are also in need of tourism dollars. Niagara County tourism generates more than $50 million in local sales tax, helping to reduce the tax burden of local property owners by nearly $800 per household. I don’t know about you, but I pay enough in property taxes (inarguably too much) and I wouldn’t want to dish out another $800.

It’s up to every one of us to make sure local tourism flourishes. When it does, so do we.

There are any number of ways that Niagara County residents can further improve the Niagara brand. For the sake of column space, here are three simple ways to start:

Spread the word: Why do you live here? Why do you love it here? There has to be reasons; share them with those visiting and those who could visit. As an example, when I court potential clients they receive not only my company brochure, they also get a visitor’s guide that I created encouraging them to enjoy Niagara County when they pay me a visit. Similarly, it seems like every single business in Inlet and Old Forge in the Adirondacks has a rack of tourism brochures in their doorway. When is the last time you saw that in Niagara County outside Niagara Falls? Those racks should be just as ubiquitous here. 

Sell the area: In the Adirondacks, a lot of cross-selling takes place. Retailers and restaurants heavily use and re-market local products and services. That doesn’t happen here. As an example, look at wines. It’s a rare Niagara County restaurant that has a good selection of wines from our great wine trail. Most don’t carry any and, if they do, it might be one or two wines. If they carried more they’d support local farms and wineries … and themselves. They’d encourage non-resident diners to visit the trail and, in turn, create repeat business for that restaurant when the travelers return.

Treat everyone like a new and welcome visitor: In the Adirondacks service sector employees treat every customer (tourists and locals alike) like it’s their first of many visits to the establishment or the park in general. In doing so there’s a palpable positive energy that’s infectious and makes outsiders feel welcome and loved. Happy people spend money! I don’t really see that here. A waitress in Lewiston might treat someone like a Lewistonian, not knowing the person hails from across the country. By doing so she fails to properly market the experience at her restaurant and in her community. In a tourism mecca like this, you never know who your customers might be. Consider one fine summer day in Olcott when I counted six different languages being spoken. That’s who we want visiting us again and again and being encouraged to do things. That’s economic development at the grassroots level.

I could go on and on about this subject, but I hope you get the gist. By living here, in a world-renowned area, we all have a vested interest in the utilization of those resources and the betterment of our economy. It’s time Niagara County residents realized we are all in the tourism industry together.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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