By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls, as a tourist destination, is going through a "renaissance."
Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. President John Percy made the statement addressing a crowd of more than 160 tourism professionals gathered for the 'I Love New York' Empire State Tourism Conference Thursday.
Percy was speaking of the work done to Old Falls Street, Niagara Falls State Park, many of the hotels in the area and the Seneca Niagara Casino, which the last time the conference was held in the city, didn't exist.
"This conference is an opportunity for us to show Niagara Falls to our colleagues from around the state," Percy said. "They can then become ambassadors themselves."
Tourism is an industry Niagara Falls has been capturing for a long, long time. But Percy said the last two years have been record-setters with the best numbers in its history coming into the city to see the cataract which gives the city its name.
Percy said the 2013 season may not break last year's records, but it won't be a dud either.
"The last two years have been our strongest years ever," he said. "Bed tax collection was up last year from what was already a strong year before it. And early indications are this year is going to be strong. From a hotel side, our bookings are strong. The indications are we'll have a strong season."
Having the type of weather Niagara Falls has experienced through the first two days of the conference has certainly helped sell the city to those professionals. With visitors like Cristyne Nicholas, chairperson of the New York State Tourism Advisory Council, in town, every little bit helps.
Nicholas helps oversee the famous "I Love NY" campaign through an 18-person council designed to implement strategies for marketing locations throughout the state. She said the campaign's job is to shine bright spotlights on the best of the state, Niagara Falls included.
"This location can be successful even in its shoulder months," Nicholas said after briefly addressing the crowd herself. "This place can still draw people in October. There's things to do. Technically, right now is a shoulder season." Shoulder season is a travel industry term to describe the time between the high and low travel seasons.
Nicholas, appointed in March to run the council after helping to privately build New York City's tourism industry into the powerhouse it has become, drawing more than 50 million visitors in 2012 alone, has a track record of successfully developing tourism progress. Besides the Big Apple, she also helped spearhead a plan to market multiple states along the country's southern coastline.
Prior to the British Petroleum oil spill which devastated the Gulf Coast states, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida pulled their resources together to form a destination which drew millions to their regions.
She said tourism relies on word of mouth to succeed.
"We're going to study all of our best practices," she said of helping Niagara Falls. "We'll look at how we can help enhance the experience. Tourism is really helped by word of mouth, when someone visits a place and goes and tells people."
The conference concludes at noon today following morning sessions.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.