Niagara Gazette

June 30, 2012

WALK THIS WAY

Area tourism officials still measuring impact of Wallenda event

By Don Glynn, don.glynn@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — In the wake of the global media coverage of Nik Wallenda's walk, area tourism operators are hopeful that the Independence Day influx and the rest of the month may set yet another record for Niagara Falls.

The Wallenda impact still is being measured but one early survey — conducted by the Niagara University College of Hospitality and Tourism Management —showed the economic impact of the Wallenda performance was $3.3 million was the three-day period starting June 15. The survey also disclosed that the event attracted 38,000 people to the destination for one day.

John Percy, president and chief executive officer of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., said that in the two weeks after the Wallenda walk, the NTCC has experienced a 30 percent increase in bookings, including hotel reservations, tour packages and attractions. A similar increase was reflected on the NTCC's web site.

The Fourth of July holiday — this year on Wednesday — is generally viewed as the busiest period of the 100-day tourist season, which runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. Meanwhile, on the Ontario side of the river, Canada Day (July 1) will be celebrated Monday.

That Independence Day falls in mid-week does not seem to be any deterrent, according to many tourist industry people, because the overall season is already off to an impressive start.

"We'll just count on two strong weekends," said Bill Torchia, who is the retail sales director for Gray Line of Niagara Falls & Buffalo. Traditionally, this entire month is regarded as prime travel time for millions of Americans and area hoteliers are confident that all the recent publicity for the falls — with the focus on Wallenda — will help even more.

"We've had a real busy season so far," said Mark Thomas, regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation. Even before Wallenda's June 15 walk across the Niagara Gorge and over the Horseshoe Falls, there were clear signs of renewed excitement within the Niagara Falls State Parks and for its attractions.

Prior to the Memorial Day weekend — often an accurate barometer of what the tourist season may bring — Thomas noted that ideal weather conditions had obviously spurred travel to the Niagara area.

With countless tourists entering and leaving the Orin Lehman Visitors Center at several doors on the upper and lower levels. it is virtually impossible to produce detailed account. At a glance, however, the attendance is up with thousands of daily visitors touring the Prospect Park and Goat Island.

Solid proof that the nation's oldest state park is experiencing an uptick in its business is the 32 percent increase in the Discovery Pass sales thus far in the season, compared with the same period in 2011. Angela Berti, marketing and communications director for the parks commission, said the pass provides a single admission to five attractions including the Maid of the Mist boat ride, the Cave of the Winds and the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Pass holders also are free to ride the Niagara Scenic Trolleys to various sites within the park. Berti said the pass sells for $33 for adults and $26 for children, ages 6 to 12.

"We've just have two strong weekends," said Bill Torchia, director of retail sales for Gray Line of Niagara Falls/Buffalo, a leading tour company. Torchia said the holiday (Fourth of July) in the middle of the week would have a positive impact. Torchia also is optimistic about the overall prospects for the 20112 season: "It's too soon to assess he spinoff effect from Wallenda but that three-hour documentary with its beautiful footage of the falls and the gorge can only help us. You couldn't expect anything better (to promote the falls.)

The weather outlook is favorable for the predicted influx. Most days during the week, temperatures will range from the low to mid-80s. The National Weather Service is forecasting a mixture of clouds and sunshine, with the possibility of a brief thunder storm, for Independence Day. A high of 83 degrees is expected with a low of 65. Another plus for Falls-bound visitors is the lower gasoline prices, compared with only few months ago. The recent AAA survey showed that gas prices in the Buffalo-Niagara area had dropped from $4.12 per gallon in April to the current average of $3.75.