By Don Glynn
Niagara Gazette — An influx of foreign visitors in early 2013 has buoyed up hopes for a strong tourist season.
The number of people stopping in January at the city’s official information center, First Street and Rainbow Boulevard, is up nearly 47 percent over the same month in 2012.
“We’ve definitely experienced a sharp increase (in foreigners) at the facility and many of them are from Asia,” said John Percy, president and chief executive officer of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation.
Obviously several factors might account for the uptick, Percy said, including “the affordability” of Niagara Falls in what is generally perceived as the offseason.
In addition, more Canadians are crossing the border daily to shop and dine as well as visit Western New York attractions. With their stronger currency — at 97 cents (U.S.) — and the increased exemptions at the border on the goods purchased , more Ontario residents also are extending their stays, according to some hoteliers.
Percy said efforts are under way for the NTCC to develop a joint marketing program in Ontario.
The foreign visitor impact also has been noted at Old Fort Niagara, said Bob Emerson, executive director of the historic site overlooking the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. “Our major growth has been in the Asian visitors,” he said, “It’s because of the NTCC’s very aggressive marketing that we’re seeing those benefits.” Emerson said: “And it’s not just Asians coming here. A couple of weeks ago we had some veterans of the Russian Army and they were really interested in the story of our fort, its architecture and the period costumes.”
Emerson is hoping that Old Fort Niagara will match last year’s attendance, when the landmark attraction finished 33 percent ahead of the previous year.
Travel industry analysts attending a recent forum explained that the soaring number of Chinese tourists is due to a streamlined visa process and the rising Chinese middle class with more opportunities for international travel.