Five counties – one brand.
That’s the goal of a tourism plan being funded with a $300,000 grant from the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.
Tourism agencies from Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties will be “trying to market the whole region,” said John H. Percy Jr., president and CEO of Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., the tourism promotion agency for Niagara Falls and Niagara County.
Percy also leads the tourism subcommittee of the Regional Economic Development Council.
“There’s a push for us to work more closely together,” Percy said of the strategy of the Regional Economic Development Councils formed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
While the grant is officially for Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, Percy said, he plans to invite representatives of other counties to the table.
The reason: The state’s existing boundaries for its 11 vacation regions under the “I Love New York” program do not line up with the boundaries of the regional councils.
Percy said he wants to offer seats at the table to Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties, too, because they’re part of the vacation region that includes Erie and Niagara counties.
“We just can’t leave them out,” Percy said.
The consortium that makes up the grant recipients consists of Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., Visit Buffalo Niagara, the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce, Cattaraugus County, and the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce.
The first part of the work will involve hiring a firm to conduct a branding study. That research will take about 18 months.
The result will be a position statement about the destination and common ground among the places in the region.
For example, items such as agritourism; farm-to-table offerings, emphasizing the local production of food; or outdoor adventure could be among the commonalities.
It would be hard to paint the whole area with one “huge paintbrush,” Percy said.
“Collectively, we can find common ground,” Percy said.
A branding study would include focus groups and one-on-one interviews with visitors to the area, as well as those seen as potential visitors.
Once the research is completed, the group will hire an advertising agency to develop the approach that’s rolled out to the public in a campaign.
Grant funding is expected to be depleted with the branding study, so the advertising step will require other funding sources.
Going forward, the groups will market themselves individually, Percy said.
“The visitor doesn’t care about county boundaries,” he said. “They just care about their experience. So let us find those experiences collectively. Then my dollars go farther, and so do theirs.”
Success of the entire project rests on getting all of the constituencies represented by each tourism agency to buy into it.
“If you don’t get that,” Percy said, “it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”