In the past four years, Buffalo and Niagara Falls have seen a huge increase in hotel development.  Commercial Real Estate Developers have taken the lead in updating and expanding the inventory of hotel products in Western New York.

In Buffalo, inventory has grown to 10,500 rooms with new hotel construction, with more rooms on the way.

There are approximately 2,900 hotel rooms in Niagara Falls, New York and 20,000 rooms in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  Free Wi-Fi is being installed in downtown Niagara Falls, N.Y., to meet the demand of the large number of tourists who are filling those hotels.

Those were the messages delivered on May 16, at The Buffalo Club, during The Commercial Real Estate Development Association’s (NAIOP) forum, “Trends in Regional Tourism.”

Bob Richardson, president of the NAIOP Upstate New York chapter, reminded the audience that one of the three focus industries in the Buffalo-Niagara regional economic development plan is tourism, “the renewed focus on the industry is just beginning and there are many opportunities ahead of us.  Many of you have already made substantial investments in the tourism/hospitality market in Western New York and rely on the continued focus to justify those commitments.”

There were 7.3 million person trips to Niagara Falls in 2016, up 10.1 percent from 2014 according to one of the panelists, John Percy, president & CEO, Destination Niagara USA, generating $667 million in spending, an 18.8 percent over 2014.

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Percy said several new hotel projects are either under construction or in the planning stages, taking advantage of renewed interest in Niagara Falls.  “The Niagara Falls USA brand is an iconic and timeless destination.”

Patrick Kaler, president, Visit Buffalo Niagara, talked at length about the need for a new convention center in downtown Buffalo. “This is a big opportunity for to continue the momentum,” he said.  “Meeting planners are excited about what they are seeing in Buffalo:  the waterfront, new hotels; it’s a great time to be in Buffalo.  This is the missing piece for us.”

Tourism is a $1.7 billion industry in Buffalo and Erie Count, with eight million visitors in 2016.

“We’re getting travel writers from around the world who are hearing a buzz about Buffalo. Many are coming in the winter, writing about their authentic experiences about Buffalo,” he said.

Noting Buffalo-Niagara has become a year-round destination, Patrick Whalen, director of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute, said he is focused on researching winter visitors to Niagara Falls.  “We don’t know enough about them,” said.

Whalen is also a member of the Council of Great Lakes Region, which studies economic and tourism trends in the U.S. and Canada.  “We need more regional collaboration, to include Toronto, Montreal, Detroit and Chicago. That’s hard to do.  Wouldn’t we be better off if we get more people to Niagara Falls, USA and Niagara Falls, Canada?

“What I’ve been preaching at the council is to collaborate at the highest levels.  Globally, tourism numbers are staggering, they are astronomical. Ours in the Great Lakes Region are nowhere near (those numbers); globally, we have a lot of room to grow,” Whalen said.

“There’s no question, that type of collaboration would mean more opportunity our industry,” NAIOP’s Richardson said.  “Our members would likely be involved in even more hotel and tourism-related development projects.”