Throw open your window and draw in a deep breath of the autumn air. So this is what it smells like -- sweet prosperity. Niagara Falls made another Top 10 list and this time it wasn't for something dubious like "Top 10 cheapest housing costs in America."
That's right -- the good people at Forbes magazine have put together their annual listing of most-popular tourist destinations, in this case ranking the Top 25, and our very own Niagara Falls (sorry, Erie County, but the fictitious land of Buffalo Niagara was overlooked) placed in the lofty No. 8 position with 12 million annual visitors.
To put that in perspective, our city finished just behind Disneyland and Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco and ahead of such ballyhooed destinations as Universal Studios, Waikiki Beach and the Grand Canyon.
The difference being that those other places are well developed and populated, while we are -- how to say it delicately -- a freakin' trainwreck! To put it another way, the talk around here always is about an undetermined future -- you know, "If things get better, then we'll look like this or design things to reflect that" sort of mentality.
Well, I've got news for you folks, if the Forbes numbers are to be believed, then we are already there. The No. 8 most-visited tourist destination in America is not a stepping-off point -- it is a gleaming bronze hook to hang your hat on.
People should be out in the streets sporting "Eight is Great" buttons. Drivers should be honking their car horns in sets of eight while blasting the old "Eight is Enough" theme song from the stereo speakers. Churches should grab hold of an "On the eighth day God created Niagara" marketing campaign designed to get fannies in the pews. People of the Cataract City should greet one another by tucking in their thumbs and lifting both hands over their heads while proclaiming, "Give me eight up high."
According to long-accepted industry benchmarks, the average North American traveler spends roughly $200 per day while on vacation. That figure includes things like hotel room, food, transportation, attractions and leisure activities.
With 12 million visitors, that means our fair city saw cash registers ring to the tune of nearly $2.5 billion last year. That's sitting-at-the-big-kids'-table money. That kind of jack is life-transforming money for a city the size of Niagara Falls. It's the type of cash that ensures new buildings, pristine roads, low property taxes and a sense of perpetual growth.
Um yeah, it shows.
So what's wrong with this picture? How can we place in the Top 10 of the most-visited spots in all of America and have much of our city look like downtown Beirut on the morning after a particularly bad night of mortar shelling?
Let's start with the numbers. Forbes says they took many factors into account, including figures offered by the Bridge Commission of vehicular traffic across the local bridges that connect the United States and Canada.
That traffic has seen a major spike over the past two years due to the dramatic climb of the Canadian dollar compared to the value of a good old greenback. While Ontario residents are not tourists, they do spend a lot of money here. The problem for most merchants is that the majority of that money is spent in two places -- Target and Fashion Outlets. Still, it would behoove most local business owners to realize that there is a gleaming and growing market just a short river crossing away and they should go after it accordingly.
The truth is that the Lewiston and Rainbow bridges see their longest lines when the majority of plates are from Ontario and a long weekend allows an ample dose of cross-border shopping.
Speaking of the numbers, according to figures supplied on the USA Niagara Chamber website, there are just 242 businesses that are members in the city of Niagara Falls. That figure includes members like the recently purchased Wilson Farms, which has multiple listings due to its many locations.
Simple math will tell you that $2.5 billion divided by 242 equals approximately $10 million per business. Raise your hand if you are a local business owner and you raked in a gross of $10 million last year.
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Maybe it's all going to the casino. God knows they're the only business that looks like it is operating inside of a $2.5 billion-generating host city.
Here's one more number for you: $18, 446. It is the latest available estimated per capita income for the Cataract City. The median household income was just $28, 956. If we are drawing that many tourists who are spending that many billions of dollars, none of it is trickling down to the hardworking people who put the blue in the collar of the city.
"Being listed by Forbes magazine as a Top 10 tourist destination for 2011 highlights the allure of Niagara USA and its ability to attract visitors from all over the world, with the beauty of Niagara Falls and unique one-of-a kind attractions," gushed John H. Percy, president and CEO of the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., after the numbers were released.
He then went on to say, "In this instance, the numbers speak for themselves and truly showcase the need and potential for future development in terms of hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses in downtown Niagara Falls. Our agency will continue to market Niagara USA as an entire region in an effort to not only continue bringing in millions of visitors each year, but in hopes of extending their stay in Niagara USA."
Nothing wrong with his quote, but maybe someone should ask him and other powers that be how 12 million people can come here with wallets loaded with green and plastic, and we still have a city where stomachs starve for food and businesses starve for customers?
Raise your glass for a toast. We're No. 8 and ranked on an esteemed list with such major cities as New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas. But what is the proper salutation?
I guess Cuba Gooding Jr. said it best: "Show me the money!"
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Oct. 4, 2011|