Attracting national conventions to the Buffalo region continues to be a struggle, but successful efforts to draw amateur athletic events are helping to mitigate that trend. Marketers of the region are also successfully working to target organizations that might be interested in Buffalo’s renaissance.
That will help make 2013 a pretty typical year for conference and convention bookings, said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, head of Visit Buffalo Niagara.
“In the national market, we are really struggling,” she said. “We have a convention center that is really old and really small.”
That’s a particular problem because Buffalo is not a major business hub like other large, growing cities, she said. That means, in order to attract business travelers to the area, the region needs to bring in conference and convention traffic.
This year, Visit Buffalo Niagara (formerly the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau) expects the area to host 142 meetings, conventions, amateur sporting events and group tours, Gallagher-Cohen said. That is expected to translate into 80,700 room nights at local hotels and a broader economic impact of $62.2 million through visitor spending on accommodations, food and visits to area attractions.
Of all overnight business travel to the area, 42 percent is related to conferences and conventions, according to a visitors report released in June by Longwoods Travel USA. That’s 10 percent higher than the national norm, according to the report.
Far more travelers to the Buffalo region take overnight trips for leisure purposes than for business reasons. But business travelers – who comprise only 14 percent of all overnight travelers to the region – spend far more money while they’re here than leisure travelers do – nearly twice as much.
That makes them an important part of the region’s economic equation, Gallagher-Cohen said.
“Where we do have success is where we have a local person really advocating to bring that business here,” she said.
The first major national conference held locally in January was for the Eastern Athletic Trainers Association, which brought in 400 to 500 attendees, mostly athletic trainers from throughout the Northeast. Getting that business was considered a coup for the local tourism agency.
“They came here years ago and had a really bad experience with the weather,” Gallagher-Cohen said. “Getting them to come back here was a challenge.”
Speaking of weather, the climate is apparently responsible for helping to make Buffalo home to the “Snow Symposium” for the American Association of Airport Executives in April. The symposium addresses cost-effective winter airport operations, particularly related to snow and ice removal.
The New York State Board of Law Examiners continues to be a heavy hitter among local conferences. The board brings in nearly 5,000 attendees a year – 1,800 in February and 3,000 in July – for bar exam testing. Buffalo is one of three state testing sites, along with New York City and Albany, though Buffalo also serves as the exam site for out-of-state and out-of-country candidates.
Visit Buffalo Niagara estimates the economic impact of both exam conferences to be $5.5 million.
The unique attributes of the Buffalo region have also begun paying higher dividends ever since the National Preservation Conference was held here in October 2011. It landed rave reviews from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Roughly 1,300 people are expected to attend the Society of Architectural Historians conference in April. And in June 2014, the Congress for New Urbanism will hold its conference in Buffalo.
This June, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies will come to Buffalo with roughly 700 conference attendees. The association supports local entrepreneurs and promotes locally driven economies. Buffalo was in competition with Philadelphia for that conference, Gallagher-Cohen said.
“That business, for us, is an important piece of business strategically,” she said. “It’s a sort of a seal of approval for us.”
The Railroad Passenger Car Alliance also just wrapped up its annual conference this month, the first time the organization has been to Buffalo since 1991. The conference, hosted by the Western New York Railway Historical Society, gave roughly 200 attendees the chance to tour local train depots, the Central Terminal and the society’s new Heritage Discovery Center.