By Jill Terreri
With the onset of snow and ice, the Niagara Falls tourism market may appear sluggish, but work is going on behind the scenes to increase visits by international travelers.
John Percy, president and chief executive officer of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation, just returned from England and China, where he has been promoting Niagara Falls to tour operators.
Percy doesn’t know how many tour bookings his trips will yield, but said he received positive feedback at events in both countries.
“Business is back to pre-9/11 levels,” he said. “It truly is rebounding.”
In China, both in Shanghai and Beijing, he was able to meet with wholesale tour operators. He said getting into China as a middle class emerges is important because as the Chinese travel more to the United States, other U.S. tourism marketers will “flood” the country.
“It’s great to get on the ground floor,” he said. “Once the market opens up, everyone will flood in.”
Though the Chinese generally consider Niagara Falls a “must see” destination, legal entry into the United States remains an issue.
While some tourist visas are issued, most Chinese visitors come to Niagara Falls on a business visa, Percy said.
“They all want to see Niagara Falls,” he said.
U.S. tourism marketers are lobbying to get China to recognize the United States with “approved destination status.”
While domestic travelers visit Niagara Falls more than those from other continents, Percy said the potential to grow the tourism industry lies with the international market, because of the growing middle class in Asia and also because international travelers tend to spend more when they travel.
At the World Travel Market, an international travel show held in London every November, the NTCC had a booth inside the New York State area. Percy met with tour operators every half hour from the United Kingdom, India and other parts of Asia. The meetings were set up by a general sales agent with whom New York State’s tourism department contracted.
Among the United Kingdom tour operators, the Niagara at Barton Hill, a hotel under construction in Lewiston, was a hit, Percy said.
He was also able to offer the hotel at the Seneca Niagara Casino and the Crowne Plaza, which can compete with Canadian hotels, he said.
Percy doesn’t have any other international trips planned but he’s thinking about them.
“I’d like to explore India as an emerging market,” he said, adding that he’s in talks with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority about traveling to Berlin, Germany, for a travel trade show in March.