Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tourism numbers look good

Tourism numbers look good

Several businesses report good tourist season

By Don Glynn
Niagara Gazette

While the attendance figures are still being compiled, it is evident from an early analysis that the 2006 tourist season will go down in the books as a generally good one.

Despite reduced lanes and road reconstruction in downtown Niagara Falls, the nation’s oldest state park was bustling with a steady influx of visitors for most of the summer. Area attraction operators also agreed that business was steady for the past two months.

As this long holiday weekend approached, South End hotels were asking upwards of $225 per night. Meanwhile, some motel operators along Niagara Falls Boulevard (Route 62) were expecting get $125 to $150 per night.

David Fleck, general manager of the 80-room Howard Johnson’s Hotel on Main Street and president of the Niagara Falls Hotel and Motel Association, said he was virtually sold out several days in advance of Labor Day.

He estimates that overall, for the year, his occupancy rate will hover at 56 percent.

“That might not sound like a whole lot, but it’s a marked improvement from that post 9-11 era when we were faced with 36 percent occupancy,” he said.

At the Econo Lodge at the Falls, 5919 Niagara Falls Boulevard, General Manager Galeb Rizek was optimistic that the 72-room hotel would be filled, but he was concerned about the weather.

Earlier in the weekend, the boulevard traffic appeared down, he said. “Actually we’ve still had a phenomenal season,” he added, noting his figures would undoubtedly match last year’s performance that was considered very good.

Some Route 62 motel operators said they had expected to get less for rooms over this weekend because of the dismal weather outlook.

On the Ontario side of the river, Niagara Parks Commission General Manager John Kernahan conceded that the current tourist season was adversely affected by unwarranted concerns over new passport rules. Widespread confusion has surfaced because people think the new rules — which take effect in 2008 — are already in place. Kernahan also thinks that threats of terrorism dissuaded many consumers from traveling any distance.

Traditionally, the Ontario parks system has depended heavily on American visitors but in recent years, Kernahan noted, the breakdown has been closer to a 50-50 split.

Before this weekend, sales of the popular “Passport to the Falls,” a single admission to seven park attractions, was up 24 percent from a year ago, according to Allen James, marketing and events coordinator for the regional state parks commission.

“We’re up substantially at our attractions within the park,” he said.

The Albany-based state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is expected to announce later in the week attendance reports from each of its 11 regions in the statewide system that includes 170 parks.

For decades, the impression has prevailed that the tourist season starts on Memorial Day weekend and ends on Labor Day.

That timeframe is no longer valid, according to many people who work in the hospitality industry.

They are quick to point out that September and October also are strong months for tourism, from the leaf-peeping weekend trips across the Northeast to the motorcoach tours and numerous fall festivals.