Unprecedented Level of Collaboration for National and Global Spotlight

By Jann Wiswall

The “I Love New York” brand has been very effective as a tool to draw tourism to the state for many years. But most people, 70 percent, in fact, connect that tagline with New York City.

In an effort to attract tourism to the western part of the state, Governor Andrew Cuomo last June announced “an initiative to further Western New York’s status as a diverse and dynamic tourism destination that builds upon the broad array of visitor experiences that lie just beyond the immediate Niagara Falls area. Eight counties, including Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming, have formed a consortium to increase awareness of the region on the national and global stage.”

The consortium’s first action was to hire a firm to conduct a branding study and develop destination positioning. It selected an international firm, DCI, which bills itself as a “highly specialized firm with exceptional expertise in economic development and travel marketing.”

DCI has created successful destination brands for some 450 cities, regions, states, provinces and countries. One of its many New York campaigns — Finger Lakes Wine Country — has been instrumental in “raising awareness of the destination as an accessible, affordable wine region, with a broad offering of cultural and outdoor experiences among key audiences.”

Malcolm Griffiths, DCI’s lead for the WNY effort, explained that the process involves several phases, the first being research. Teams of DCI researchers already have visited each county, conducted focus groups, talked with community members at all levels, and conducted an online survey.

Phase two involves analyzing the research and working with all eight counties to come to conclusions about challenges, opportunities and messages. This work is expected to be completed in December.

Phase three will pull all of that information together to craft a “brand statement” or tag line and graphic representations that evoke those messages. Phase three must be completed by April 2015.

Brian McFadden, executive director of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce, who is one of Cattaraugus County’s representatives on the consortium, said the effort “is a positive step toward building the region as an overall brand, and one that differentiates us from the rest of the state.”

Ellicottville, he said, is “front and center in the region and has a big role in the process,” noting that Ellicottville’s is the only chamber of commerce represented in the consortium.

“Developing a strong, clear brand promise that unites visitor experiences and can be sold to travelers in all key segments will capture the region’s diversity and draw additional visitors to our region for longer stays,” Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation President & CEO John Percy, who is leading the consortium, said in the governor’s statement.

Niagara Falls, of course,  is the region’s anchor attraction, but Western New York is also rich in cultural and natural assets, such as architectural masterpieces by Frank Lloyd Wright, H.H. Richardson, and Louis Sullivan; recreational spaces such as the Lake Erie and Ontario shorelines, Holiday Valley, Allegany State Park, Letchworth State Park, Darien Lake and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge; cultural gems including the Albright-Knox Gallery and Chautauqua Institution; professional sports; wine trails; and quaint villages that draw visitors from around the globe.

Finding a way to link all these diverse counties and their attractions together, McFadden acknowledged, will be a challenge.

“It will be interesting to see what comes of it,” he said.

Still, Western New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair and President of the University at Buffalo Satish Tripathi said, “This eight county consortium is demonstrating an unprecedented level of collaboration with tourism entities in our region and will ultimately establish a clear destination brand that will increase awareness of the region as a whole on the national and global stage.”

Western New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair and Managing Partner of Larkin Development Group Howard Zemsky said, “Tourism creates jobs and generates new economic opportunities for our region. This Request for Proposals (RFP) will help us create a strategy that leverages our strengths and assets to drive additional awareness, overnight visitation and increased spending to Western New York.