|John Percy, when he travels, stays at five-star hotels such as the Mumbai Four Seasons. Cost: $600 plus per night.
|Telling the truth? Based on meager room bookings, and claimed
“conversions,” an estimated 70 people would have had to have shared every hotel room if NTCC’s claimed numbers are accurate.
While the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation (NTCC) steadfastly refuses to disclose how they spend taxpayer’s money, they do provide a quarterly report which attempts to demonstrate how they help the city.
The report works like this: Over the course of the year, various people make some sort of contact with NTCC -- by email, visiting their website, or by phone.
If an NTCC representative answers the phone, if someone is sent an email or if someone visits their website (www.niagara-usa.com) the person is counted as "serviced."
The NTCC claims it "serviced" 1,004,295 people last year. About 90 percent were visitors to their website with whom they had no actual contact.
NTCC then assumes that 46 percent of these "serviced" people are “converted.” That is to say it is assumed that they decided to come to Niagara Falls on the basis of their visit to the website, the phone call or the email, bringing their families along with them to Niagara Falls as a result.
Using these assumptions, NTCC then reports that a total of 461,976 people came to Niagara Falls because of the NTCC, and assumes each person spent $445 here.
With these rather dubious assumptions, NTCC took credit for bringing people who spent $205 million into the city. The report assumes that none of the 461,976 would have come to Niagara Falls had they not called the NTCC, received an e-mail or surfed onto their website.
"These findings are not just pulled out of the sky," Percy told the council when questioned about the veracity of these figures. "They are factual and solid numbers."
Actually, however, they are pulled out of the sky. There is no actual proof that any of these almost half-million people came to Niagara Falls. NTCC does not track the names of people who visit their website. They simply presume that if someone visits their website, 46 percent of the time that person will be “converted” and decide to come to the falls, and that he or she otherwise would not have come.
That is, of course, simply preposterous. Where did Percy get the nerve to come up with the figure of 46 percent? Who, in their right mind, would think that Niagara Falls would need a website for someone to become convinced to come to see the Falls? What could possibly be on the website that would be so motivating that it would make half-million people, who were otherwise disinclined to visit the famous Niagara Falls, change their mind, “convert”, and visit it?
There is apparently no analysis or conclusive data that shows whether any of these people who happened to visit this website came to Niagara Falls as a result of visiting that website, or if these people that came to Niagara Falls weren’t already planning to come and only visited the website to find out more information.
Nevertheless, based on these assumptions, NTCC takes $1 million from the taxpayers every year. For having a website and answering phone calls.
Nice work if you can get it.
In 2007, NTCC claimed to book 8,841 rooms. That might sound like a lot, but one Korean bus tour operator booked 10,000 rooms without taxpayer funding. Gordon Stephens, of ‘Niagara Falls Live’, told the Reporter that he booked around 10,000 hotel rooms from his website (www.niagarafallslive.com), which, of course, does not cost taxpayers one dime.
Last year, NTCC claimed to have booked slightly over 6,000 room nights. L and L Tours and Paradise tours each did more than double that once again, without costing taxpayers a dime.
The point that the NTCC only booked 6,000 room nights suggests that their claim of 461,975 people “converted” by their website is pure fiction. If it were true that nearly 500,000 people were converted solely by their website to come to Niagara Falls, when they otherwise would not have come, then how come only 6,000 people booked rooms through their website?
So maybe they booked an average of 77 people per room.
Pay and travel on taxpayer dime.
Back in 2009, the Niagara Falls Reporter unearthed the secretive NTCC’s tax returns which showed the salary of their president, John Percy, to be more than $120,000, and his travel expenses to be around $70,000 per year.
One revelation contained in the NTCC tax returns is that NTCC spends more on salaries and travel than advertising.
Percy paid himself a $25,000 bonus on May 24, 2008, for the job he did the previous year. Auditors, however, found that the bonus had not been approved by NTCC Board of Directors and that no board member was even aware of it.
The Reporter learned and subsequently published information regarding the fact that Percy went on extended trips to Europe and Asia, allegedly to promote tourism.
The nature of some of the trips seemed suspiciously like pleasure travel. Percy stayed in $500-a-night rooms and spent lavishly at restaurants and other entertainment venues.
Percy has been to Delhi, Mumbai, London, Prague, Berlin, Geneva, Milan and other places that he chooses not to reveal, all on the taxpayer’s dime.
One year he took an estimated 44 trips.
Trips to Great Britain, Las Vegas, Oregon, Charlotte and Albany were also noted, and one four-day Indian jaunt cost hoteliers of Niagara Falls $18,579.
In other words, local hoteliers paid bed tax on about 4,644 rooms to fund Percy’s trip. Tens of thousands more were spent on nightclub cover charges, liquor, dinners, tuxedo rentals and $18,736 in bills for “massage therapists.”
One Continental Airlines flight for Percy was booked at the estimated cost of around $4,600 for first class tickets. He stayed at the 5-star Four Seasons Mumbai. The cost of a room: $634 per night. Percy had dinner bills in excess of $1,000.
One year, he admitted to spending $14,000 in January to attend an American Bus Association conference in Charlotte. He jetted off to India in March. The five-day "promotional" trip included banquets held in Mumbai and New Delhi.
Upon his return from his trip to India, Percy told the press that he and his party were "treated like royalty" on the subcontinent. Percy admitted banquets cost taxpayers $7,000. There was a fair amount of alcohol consumed, since Percy admitted Bacardi paid for the booze -- saving hotel owners about $6,000.
Percy declined to provide copies of receipts for the trip.
When asked by the Niagara Gazette whether he would be willing to make public all receipts and expenditures upon returning from one of his
India trips, Percy declined, saying he's concerned some would over-scrutinize the receipts and try to create controversy that isn't there.
"I've been hired to produce positive results for this destination and want to do that effectively," he said. "I don't need to be criticized by every little receipt that is provided."
In defense of his lavish expenditures, Percy claims he brought Indian tourism here. The problem with this claim is that, as most people who have been in the Niagara Falls tourism industry for more than 10 years knows, Indian tourism exploded and peaked five years before the NTCC was created, thanks in large part to the relaxation of visas for Indians wishing to visit America.
It had nothing to do with the NTCC or Percy’s banquets or royal soirees on the Indian subcontinent.