The owners of popular local attractions are eager to get back to business in what has so far been one of the most challenging tourism seasons of all time.
Representatives from popular visitor destinations from across Niagara County gathered in Niagara Falls on Wednesday to discuss their plans to once again begin catering to customers now that Western New York has officially entered phase four of New York’s gradual reopening plan.
While they lost a significant portion of the first part of the 2020 tourism season, the owners and operators of local attractions expressed relief over at least being able to reopen – under recommended public health guidelines – in time for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend.
John Percy, president and CEO of Niagara County’s lead tourism agency, Destination Niagara USA, said it feels as though the local tourism community is “finally seeing the brighter days at the end of the rainbow.”
“I truly believe that our comeback will be stronger than our setback,” he said.
Percy said the tourism agency started transitioning its marketing messaging after the region entered phase three two weeks ago, with an emphasis on “key drive markets,” including other parts of New York as well as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois and New Jersey.
The campaign’s strategy highlights the outdoor adventures visitors can experience throughout Niagara County. Percy said the messaging also includes the county’s “unified in safety” program, noting that, amid COVID-19, safety has been identified as one of the prime motivators for consumers when they are choosing vacation destination.
“In the two weeks since we launched this campaign, we have seen a significant increase in overall website visitation, which indicates a strong intent to visit,” he said.
According to Percy, the county tourism agency’s website has seen a 109% increase since the campaign was launched, with a 157% increase in page views and a 101% increase in new users. Attractions page views increased 99%, he said.
“We can see that the pent up demand for travel is high and we truly believe that as our attractions continue to reopen this week, we will see our drive market visitors return to enjoy all that this destination has to offer,” he said.
Representatives from a variety of local tourism attractions were on hand for Wednesday’s press conference at the official visitor center on Rainbow Boulevard in Niagara Falls. The Aquarium of Niagara, Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride, Niagara Falls State Park, Old Fort Niagara, Rainbow Air, Inc. and Whirlpool Jet Boats, among others, are all preparing to reopen under guidelines that have now become standard for public spaces in New York, including requirements involving face masks or face shields for guests as well as recommendations for 6-feet of social distancing while indoors.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, which takes visitors on rides along the turbulent waters of the Niagara River, officially launched its 29th season Wednesday, allowing passengers to experience one-of-a-kind thrill rides in the scenic Niagara Gorge while staying protected from COVID-19.
New safety protocols implemented at its operations on both sides of the Niagara River in Queenston, Ontario and Lewiston, New York include maximum tour boat capacities of 50% , sanitization of whitewater helmets and face shields given to all passengers, enhanced cleaning measures, including sanitizing boats and all equipment prior to each trip as well as additional spot cleaning of high-touch surfaces on a frequent schedule.
“We can’t wait to get back on the water like we have for nearly three decades,” says Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours President John Kinney. “We’ve put a number of enhanced safety measures in place to help our guests get outdoors and make the most of summer.”
Rainbow Air owner Pat Proctor plans to resume helicopter flights above the Falls on Thursday.
Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown is preparing to reopen on Friday, following its 15-week closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily hours of operation have been shortened slightly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to allow for extra cleaning before and after hours.
The Aquarium of Niagara will officially open to the general public on Saturday, at the summer operating hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.