by Robert Emerson
Old Fort Niagara
When the New York Times named Niagara Falls to its list of "52 Places to Go in 2014" earlier this year, the iconic photo of the waterfalls themselves was not what was featured. Instead, a photo of Old Fort Niagara's French Castle was selected to accompany the article. This is a testament to how the Niagara USA region has grown to be more than just Niagara Falls alone. While the mighty falls is what might first entice visitors to come, it's the rich history and world-class attractions throughout Niagara County that enable visitors to extend their trip from a few hours to a few days.
As a nonprofit organization, Old Fort Niagara has a very limited marketing budget and little to no resources needed to implement promotional campaigns targeting tourists and tour operators on our own. Thanks to the efforts of the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., we have had an opportunity to collaborate with the agency on creating packages that appeal to visitors outside of our region, including internationally, and worked with travel reporters to raise the profile of Old Fort Niagara as a great destination on top of a visit to Niagara Falls.
In recent years, NTCC launched a campaign targeting Asian tourists and tour operators. This international reach has greatly benefited the fort. On a recent, cold weekday, we had three busloads of international visitors at our visitor center first thing in the morning for a tour. This has recently become a common occurrence for us. In past winters, we would have been lucky to receive that many visitors in one week! Through local campaigns in conjunction with NTCC, we have also been able to draw more Western New York residents to our special events, leading to increased attendance at every one of them.
Two years ago, Old Fort Niagara averaged 70,000 in annual attendance. Last year, we exceeded 150,000 visitors to the fort - a number that we haven't seen since the 1970s. We directly attribute this dramatic increase in visitors to the work of the NTCC.
And come late spring and summer, NTCC is bringing in travel writers from across the world to visit the fort nearly once a week. Last year, as a result of these media visits, popular travel blog "Mike's Road Trip" named us the best historic site. That type of exposure is something that cannot be bought, and NTCC has been the key factor in raising the profile of Old Fort Niagara.
Niagara USA is a stronger destination when we all work together, and NTCC has given us that opportunity. While it's our job as stewards of historic attractions to make sure visitors have a good time once they're here, we can thank the NTCC staff for its hard work in getting them here in the first place. Here at Old Fort Niagara, we are already looking forward to another great year of welcoming local, national and international visitors.