Niagara Global Tourism Institute celebrates five years

Contributed photoAnthony Vilardo, president of USA Niagara Development Corp.; the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University president; Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster; Jamie Evans and Bobby Anderson of F BITES; and Patrick Whalen, director of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute, prepare to cut a cake to celebrate the NGTI’s fifth anniversary.

The Niagara Global Tourism Institute, a Niagara University-led initiative to transform the regional tourism industry, is kicking off summer by celebrating five years of operational success in the region.

The NGTI was created as an initiative to foster collaborative partnerships between the public and private sector to improve the regional tourism product. It operates with a focus on research, skills development, entrepreneurship, and technology. The initial $50,000 study that resulted in the formation of the NGTI was funded by the support of New York state, through the USA Niagara Development Corporation. Niagara University then matched a $250,000 New York Power Authority Proceeds funding award to establish the institute in 2014.

“As we said when we launched the Niagara Global Tourism Institute five years ago, this work is dictated by the founder of our Vincentian community, St. Vincent de Paul, and is part of our responsibility as an institution to invest in our community,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. “Niagara was the first college in the world to offer a bachelor’s degree in tourism, and now we are expanding our expertise in this field, building the NGTI as a driver to improve the quality of life for every citizen in this community.”

The NGTI leverages the university’s significant history and resources in hospitality and tourism management to enhance Niagara Falls’ tourism industry, which has been identified as a key economic driver by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. Since its inception in 2014, guided by the pillars of the institute, the NGTI has developed the following:

• Research — The NGTI conducted a “Visitor Interaction Study” (winter of 2017 & 2018), focusing on both psychographic and quantitative data from more than 150 interactions with domestic and international visitors to Niagara Falls. The study was guided by Dr. Youngsoo Choi, an associate professor in the university’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Students from two separate classes helped conduct the study.

• Technology — The NGTI, working with Niagara University, the New York Power Authority, the City of Niagara Falls, and Destination Niagara USA, pooled resources to launch “Niagara Wi-Fi,” which offers tourists complimentary wireless internet access throughout Old Falls Street, located in the downtown corridor of Niagara Falls.

• Workforce Development — The NGTI has developed a Tourism Career Pathways Program for members of the local community interested in working in the tourism/hospitality industry. The four-week program provides participants the opportunity to transition into employment after graduation. The program has conducted more than 1,500 hours of development training over the first four cohorts and has utilized key connections with industry stakeholders and nonprofit partnerships.

In addition to the pathways program, the NGTI has also hosted the Disney Institute for the past four years, giving professionals from the region training on Disney’s approach to business excellence, employee engagement, quality service, and leadership excellence. More than 700 professionals, representing over 117 organizations, have attended the Disney program at the Conference & Events Center Niagara Falls.

• Entrepreneurship — This fall, the NGTI will launch “TReC @ 616 Niagara,” a co-working and business incubation space in downtown Niagara Falls. TReC will have a concentration on tourism technology and serve as a catalyst for density and economic activity, providing innovative workspace and programming for local entrepreneurs, startup companies, and independent businesses from all industries.

The 616 Niagara project, a historic preservation of five vacant buildings, is being developed through TM Montante Development with grant funding from Empire State Development.

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