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From left, Aquarium of Niagara Executive Director Gary Siddall and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul entertain visiting penguins from the Aquarium as Falls Mayor Robert Restaino looks on.
From left, Aquarium of Niagara Executive Director Gary Siddall and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul entertain visiting penguins from the Aquarium as Falls Mayor Robert Restaino looks on.

Niagara Falls tourism reps in 'staycation' mode

Fri, Jul 24th 2020 07:00 am

‘New York Forward’ campaign turns focus to the Niagara experience

Story & photo by Terry Duffy


As the “New York Forward” pandemic recovery campaign continues, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul made her second visit to Niagara Falls in as many weeks to again send home the message Niagara has overcome COVID-19 and is open for business. On Tuesday, she said now is the time to consider a visit to the Cataract City as part of “staycation” plans this year.

Hochul was joined by Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino, New York State Parks Western Regional Director Mark Mistretta, and a number of Falls tourism officials at the Aquarium of Niagara to emphasize the “stay close to home” message, and also to support the many tourist attractions and businesses that continue their recovery from the state shutdown.

“We want to remind people that, if you have a family at home and are looking for something to do with your children, and you think of Niagara Falls as someplace you did years ago, come back!” Hochul said. “The experience is phenomenal. Many attractions are new, they have been updated; the state park has had $70 million in investments, and you will not believe the transformation.

“Come to Cataract Commons; we just opened a couple of days ago. The new entrance to the state park. There’s a big ‘wow’ factor here.

“We want everyone to come and visit and please support these businesses. We have to get them through these tough times. … The time is now to support these businesses and these attractions,” Hochul said.

Destination Niagara USA CEO/President John Percy talked of the various methods tourism officials have been utilizing during the continuing “New York Forward” phases to promote the region as being a safe destination for families as the state’s recovery moves forward.

“We began this pandemic with a message of hope, ‘Dream Now. Adventure Later,’ ” Percy said.

He went on to discuss the virtual and online avenues that area tourism officials have been using during the reopening to promote the Niagara Region, both as an attractive and cost-wise destination, but also one that families would be comfortable with visiting and spending time during their stay.

Discussing a recent promo called, “Wide Open Spaces … Now Open for Adventure,” Percy said, “We wanted to show that we have wide open spaces (here) and that we have adventures that you can enjoy and put on your bucket list.”

Percy said tourism officials have talked up the various preventative measures they are taking to promote a safe and enjoyable experience to visitors during their stays: “These are simplistic factors that each organization, each attraction or hotel or whatever, could do, along what we are asking for the customer to. So we have all these safety materials on our website” that we can share with others.

Thus far, Percy said the Destination Niagara USA approach is having an impact.

“Since the campaign has launched, from May 18 to June 18 and beyond up to this day, we’ve seen a 138% increase on our website, (thousands) in page views,” he said. “It is huge, people are looking and they’re researching. We are starting to see it.”

Percy said Destination Niagara’s staycation focus in the COVID-19 era is centered on New York state. “Typically we are selling Niagara Falls to the world. (But now) we are closer to home. New York is important to us; New Yorkers have been through this pandemic in a big way, and trust you understand the guidelines. So we are reaching out to them, with our reopen campaign to New York state, and urging them to travel to us as well.”

Percy said, first and foremost in Destination Niagara’s travel campaign, is the message the region is “safe, and that the health concerns are first and foremost at the top of our list.”

Throughout the program, all attending tourism officials, including Gary Siddall of the Aquarium of Niagara, Anthony Vilardo of USA Niagara, Bob Emerson of Old Fort Niagara, Christopher Glynn of Maid of the Mist, and Frank Strangio of Wingate by Wyndham and Quality Inn, emphasized their focus on promoting a healthy environment and in providing the visitor the most comfortable environment during their stays.

“Since our late-June opening we have all been focused on social distancing,” Glynn said. “We’ve made a number of adjustments” for visitors on all our boats.

Emerson reported Old Fort Niagara opened July 3 and thus far visitor response has been good. “It’s a safe situation,” Emerson said. “We’ve been working with Destination Niagara and ‘New York Forward.’ I’m very pleased so far.”

He said OFN’s outdoor living history experiences have been adjusted to allow for improved social distancing and safety protocols, and the staff is effectively managing capacity in all buildings.

As to Falls accommodations, Strangio said the region’s hotel industry has been and continues to battle back against the harsh economic impacts of quarantine.

“COVID has been devastating, and when you have to do essential things during a pandemic, travel really isn’t at the top of your list,” Strangio said, pointing to a 75% drop in hotel business year to date.

Regardless, “We have followed the right precautions; we reopened; we have made a plan.”

He said the Wyndham and Quality Inn parent franchise has been working with the Falls hotel to promote a clean environment, as well as a healthy and safe experience for visitors. It’s a concept Strangio has been sharing with other non-franchised hoteliers in the area.

“We’ve made a certain effort here to do this, to educate others. We have a message here, ‘Niagara Falls is a safe place to come.’ We offer acres and acres of social distancing, it’s a beautiful place to come,” he said. “But when you stay overnight you will be safe, and that’s the message we need to get out.”

“Staycation” is a word basically unheard of a year ago. It has become common and is now widely accepted in many Americans’ leisure planning for 2020. In fact, as the coronavirus continues to rage, extended travel has, for the most part, gone by the wayside.

Many are now opting for travel much closer to home – with one report by the American Hotel and Lodging Association finding only 44% of Americans are planning an overnight vacation or leisure travel in 2020, with 81% opting for day trips instead. And with the borders to both Canada and Mexico continuing in shutdown mode, and travel restrictions remaining in place to many overseas destinations, that staycation mindset is likely to remain popular for some time ahead.

“As we enter into phase four, we’d like to send a strong message out to the local community: If you’ve ever thought about a staycation, this is the year to do it!” Hochul said. “Bring them to places like Niagara Falls and explore, and treasure that time with your family. … In so doing … we are also supporting our great businesses that give this community their identity.”

For more information on the wealth of staycation adventures in the Niagara Falls region, visit www.niagarfallsusa.com.

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