It was a record summer for the tourist industry in Niagara Falls, say officials who assist visitors in the Cataract City. As we head into the fall and winter months, the challenge is to keep guests coming.
Niagara Falls enjoyed a record summer for tourism, according to local tourism leaders. The Niagara USA Official Visitors Center reports assisting more than 103,000 guests during the summer of 2016. The Center estimates that to be a 16 percent increase from the previous summer tourist season.
Changes that helped boost the local tourist trade this year include the introduction of a trolley service that linked users to more than a dozen destinations along the Niagara River.
"We've done something great, as far as the trolleys, because we're bringing patrons from downtown Niagara Falls, throughout all the other attractions all the way up to Fort Niagara," said State Assemblyman John Ceretto during an appearance at the Aquarium of Niagara Wednesday. "But this is at the cusp. We've got to continue moving forward."
The Aquarium represents one of the few year-round attractions available to tourists in Niagara Falls. Local leaders hail news of what was deemed a record summer for Falls tourism but admit that as the local hotel inventory grows, so too does the challenge to keep those rooms filled.
"We do a really great job between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Most hotels are full, people are coming, it's really kind of a machine that turns itself on. It's what happens the rest of the year, what happens after Labor Day," said State Senator Robert Ortt.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster says plans are in the works to create more off-season, indoor attractions. The proposed Wonderfalls project inside the former Rainbow Centre shopping mall, for example, includes a proposed water park, daredevil exhibit and family fun center.
"We have individuals who come from across the world and often times are still in a different time zone, as they're walking up and down the streets after dark. They're looking for things to do in the evening here," Dyster said.
"Of course, during the winter the falls can be very beautiful. We've had increased visitation at the falls to see the 'frozen falls' over a couple of recent winters. But you're not going to stand down there for three or four hours at a time. You need to find other things for people to do to help extend their stay. Get them to come here to start with, and that's where the expansion of the attraction base is very important."
Dyster also pointed out the opportunity for more outdoor activities, acknowledging the introduction of a zip line attraction across the border in Niagara Falls, Ontario. But as this side of the border shifts to a redevelopment strategy that puts more emphasis on greenspace, so too would the possibilities for new outdoor activities, the mayor suggests.
"We think we can tap into that similar demand for exciting outdoor recreation," Dyster said. "We think we can do it in a much more environmentally sensitive, an aesthetically sensitive manner maybe, than what has happened on the Canadian side."
John Percy, president and CEO of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Center, was out of town attending a conference and was unavailable to be interviewed for this story.