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By Frank Thomas Croisdale

Those of us who have been paying attention have known for a long time that you've engaged in a full-out assault designed to capture and control the name and image of our world-famous waterfalls. You have undertaken this nefarious plan because your research has shown you that the overwhelming number of visitors who come within a hundred miles of your city borders do so for one reason -- to visit our waterfalls. I use the word "our" carefully and deliberately. I mean it in the proprietary sense, as in belonging to the denizens of Niagara Falls, located in Niagara County.

You might say I use it as calculatingly, as you have in infecting us with the fictional phrase "Buffalo Niagara." It is as concocted as the city of Metropolis, and it doesn't take a Superman with X-ray vision to see why it was created.

It was born into this universe because study after study showed that tourists arriving here -- some 12 million to 15 million annually -- came to see Niagara Falls, period. A few have an idea that Buffalo is somewhere nearby and, frankly, they don't give a damn.

Don't get me wrong -- I love Buffalo. I'm a Bills and Sabres fan in good times and in bad. I love the Albright-Knox and the history and science museums. I visit the Buffalo Zoo two or three times a year and I think that the Irish Times is a hidden gem of downtown eateries. I've never had a better steak than the ones served up at Buffalo Chop House and I think the drive through Millionaire's Row is one of the most beautiful one take on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I feel that way, but tourists don't. In my nearly 20 years working in tourism here, I have engaged hundreds of thousands of visitors in the art of conversation. Guess how many times one has asked me about Frank Lloyd Wright or Frederick Law Olmsted? Or how many times they have wanted directions to the art museum, or, save when the Bodies exhibit was ongoing, to the science center?

Zero, nada, zip, zilch ... never!

In fact, and this is going to hurt your pride, when I am in Niagara Falls, Ont., and a tourist asks me for directions to Buffalo, where do you think they're trying to get to? Almost always it is the Fashion Outlet Mall on Military Road. When I explain to them that the mall is actually in Niagara Falls, N.Y., they are surprised.

My follow-up question is: Will you be going on to Buffalo after the mall? Put a Dr. in front of their answer, and you'd have a famed James Bond villain.

But hey, you already know this, at least the very astute people running your visitor's bureau do.

That's why they recently unveiled the new slogan "Buffalo For Real." Along with the re-branding came eight "webisodes" designed to convince visitors to Niagara Falls that they should spend their dollars in Buffalo instead. Of course, they're not sold to the public that way, but this is what they told the Buffalo News in the story announcing the new marketing campaign:

"Research by the former Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is being renamed Visit Buffalo Niagara, showed that the region's history, museums and architecture were among the main reasons tourists visited Buffalo, along with a stop in Niagara Falls."

I'm willing to bet that research showed 99.99 percent of the people are coming for the big water drop while .01 percent are among the niche travelers that don't even make a blip on our tourism radar.

Oh, and about this name change to Visit Buffalo Niagara, if the phrase is to be used at all, it should be Niagara Buffalo. The lure should be recognized before the hook, don't you think?

I offer this as a community service to our visitor bureau here in Niagara County, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation (NTCC). The NTCC should change their name tomorrow to Visit Niagara Buffalo -- because, mark my words, that's where this Buffalo entity is headed. Once they get everyone sold on Buffalo Niagara, they will complete the hijacking by swapping the positioning of the two city names, and our goose will be cooked.

Think I'm over reacting? Take a look at their visitbuffaloniagara.com website. In the main drop-down menu bar is an entire section labeled "Niagara Falls." Our NTCC site has no such similar designation for Buffalo.

Maybe even more telling is the big Canadian Flag on the Buffalo site with the words, "Welcome Canadians." Click on it, and you'll be sent to a page extolling the virtues of local shopping, attractions and dining. I clicked on the word "restaurants" and was sent to a page listing a number of eateries, all within the confines of Buffalo and Erie County.

Most interestingly are the directions listed to get Canadians to "Buffalo Niagara." They are to Fort Erie and over the Peace Bridge. Why? Because they don't want any to cross at the Rainbow Bridge and get sidetracked and spend dollars in the Niagara portion of Buffalo Niagara, that's why.

Speaking of our NTCC, in researching this column I typed in ntcc.com. I was sent to a "parked" site that was full of ads. It must be ntcc.org, I thought, and typed that in my search box. I was sent to -- and I'm not making this up -- the official site of the North Texas Chinese Church. To get to the site of our NTCC, one has to type in niagara-usa.com. Leave out the dash and the site won't load.

That's way too bulky and issue-laden for today's savvy Internet user. It's time to change the name to visitniagarabuffalo.com and reclaim our name. Far more calculated -- and, if I dare say, Buffalo-like -- would be to rename the organization Visit Niagara USA/Canada, but I bet the Canadians wouldn't let their identity be stolen without hitting back hard.

It's also time for every Niagara Falls business, governmental agency, organization, and social and civic group to start using the phrase "Niagara Buffalo," and correct anyone who tries to foist the reverse upon us.

Regionalism is fine, but we are in a fight for our very survival in the city of Niagara Falls. Our city is dying right in front of our eyes, and we don't have even a dollar to spare to the city of Buffalo. The only thing we have going for us is those visitors to our waterfalls, and even there, we have to fight to keep enough of them here before they cross the border into Canada.

Our regional partners need to be within our county, so that all monies stay here where they can be reinvested in our infrastructure. Make no mistake about it, the phrase "Buffalo Niagara" was created by Buffalonians for Buffalo-only interests. To keep allowing it to grow unchecked and unchallenged by government and business here is allowing ourselves to be buffaloed.

As far as the new marketing campaign featuring our waterfalls being used to divert our tourists to Buffalo businesses goes, this citizen of Niagara Buffalo respectfully asks, "Buffalo, for real?"

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 24, 2011