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A center for high-tech innovation in the tourism industry focused in Niagara Falls seems like such a natural fit that it’s a wonder no one thought of it sooner.

Niagara University plans to establish the Niagara Global Tourism Institute – which would be the second institution of higher learning established in downtown, following Niagara County Community College’s Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, which opened last fall on Old Falls Street.

The promise of the high-tech innovation center is bolstered by the Culinary Institute’s huge success.

An initial money plan is in place, with the first phase of the project estimated at $415,000. A hopeful sign is that the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board in November recommended the project receive a $250,000 grant from the New York Power Authority.

The university has committed the balance of the funding for the first phase and officials are in discussion with the city and USA Niagara Development Corp., the state’s economic development arm in the Falls, about potential space for the institute.

These critical steps in accomplishing the plan, along with vocal support from stakeholders such as Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, cultivate positive energy around the project. The plan would help develop the next generation through a learning space in the school’s existing college of hospitality and tourism, in addition to a space for teaching and developing state-of-the-art marketing techniques.

Leveraging the natural gift of Niagara Falls hasn’t been easy. It should have been, but that’s another long story. The Global Tourism Institute offers an ability to tap deeper into the potential surrounding the falls. It’s something the Canadians long ago figured out and why many tourists admire the natural wonder of the world from the other side of the border.

As university leaders understand, travelers today expect more. But they also expect to pull together their own travel packages with a click of the mouse or the swipe of a finger. Thus, among the goals for the institute are building applications for mobile devices and working with “virtual reality labs,” which will provide simulations of tourism experiences for marketing purposes. They should help inform those making the decisions on how to attract more travelers and keep them around longer.

The Global Tourism Institute is a concept oozing with potential – for education, job training, marketing and tourism development. With no time line set for an opening, the focus must be on getting it done and then quickly twinning it with so-far unrealized projects such as the long-proposed Niagara Experience Center.

The path to success in Niagara Falls is there. We just need to follow it.