By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Some 160 hospitality industry representatives are attending the three-day 'I Love New York' Empire State Tourism Conference in Niagara Falls.
"The mission here is to provide professional development so that our people can apply the techniques to generate tourism dollars for their regions," said conference chairperson Suzanne M. Bixby. Attendees represent communities statewide, from New York City, Albany, Rochester and the Finger Lakes to the Southern Tier and Buffalo-Niagara area. The Sheraton at the Falls is the headquarters hotel while all business sessions and workshops are scheduled at the Conference Center Niagara Falls.
Amir Eylon, vice president, Partnership Development, Brand USA, will be the keynote speaker at the 9 a.m. session today. His topic: "Brand USA— Partnerships to Increase Travel to the United States." Experienced in the travel industry, Eylon's prime role is building alliances with destination marketing organizations, convention and visitors bureaus and travel brands across all segments of the industry.
The general session set for this morning is "Packaging a Downtown Area as a Tourist Destination," with Barbara Wold, an author and consultant with expertise on customer care, marketing strategy, tourism development and public relations.
In addition, Betsy Oliphant, advertising director for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., will explain how tourism professionals can extend their brand, leverage dollars and build partnerships.
Dawn L. Borchert, executive director of the New York State Travel & Vacation Association, which coordinates the annual conference, said that in addition to the state tourism people in attendance, some Canadians have come from as far away as Montreal to take part in the activities. Ms. Borchert, a former account executive with the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the association attempts to move its annual conference each year so more people across the state can participate. Last year, the meeting was held in Albany. Association officers and conference planners said that John Percy, president and CEO of the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp. and his staff provided invaluable assistance in arranging the sessions and activities at the Falls.
Other speakers will include Douglas G. Bennett Jr., president and chief executive officer of Campground Owners of New York; Jen Buston, communications director for Vermont Tourism and Marketing; and Mark Preston, a six-year veteran of TripAdvisor Media Group who now serves as the company's Northeast region.
After registering Wednesday morning, the conference attendees were offered several options to check out the area including a shuttle service to the Hyde Park Golf Course, a free ride on the Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley, a free trip on the Maid of the Mist boat and a special discount to the Aquarium of Niagara.
The sessions will conclude Friday with a breakfast buffet at the Conference & Event Center and a presentation by staffers with the New York State Department of Economic Development — Division of Tourism.