AFTERWORDS The Unexpected Buffalo BY CATHERINE PRATHER AS I READ invitation to the Buffalo Niagara Travel Industry Summit, the tagline jumped out at me: The Unexpected Buffalo. Yep, I thought, that’s for certain. I had never been to that part of New York State and didn’t know what to expect. It turns out I wasn’t alone. I was one of nine invited representatives from national travel and tourism associations, and only one of my fellow attendees had visited Buffalo (and that was decades earlier). Longtime industry friend Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, told me the city had experienced a trans- formation with billions of dollars of new tourism investment, including a redevel- oped waterfront, restored architecture, and a boom in new hotels, restaurants, breweries and distilleries. Through their 2014 strategic planning process, Visit Buffalo Niagara determined this renaissance provided an opportunity to reintroduce the destination—or intro- duce, as in my case. For the leadership of the associations at the summit, Patrick said they wanted to “shatter precon- ceived notions of our city and region and show them the unexpected Buffalo that our destination has become.” That really was the strategic purpose of the summit … and it worked brilliantly. Every single one of us went from hav- ing little or no expectations to having them blown away. The summit brought together a broad cross-section of travel and tourism industry professionals to Together in Buffalo Besides NTA, these organizations also participated in the Buffalo Niagara Travel Industry Summit: • American Society of Association Executives • Brand USA • Destinations International • International Association of Venue Managers • National Association of Sports Commissions • Religious Convention Management Association • U.S. Travel Association 56 January 2018 Participants in the Buffalo Niagara Travel Industry Summit (including NTA’s Catherine Prather, far right) gathered in front of a mural by Buffalo artist and architect Casey Milbrand. The mural, inspired by vintage postcards, is a frequent photographic backdrop for visitors and for wedding parties. tour the city, confer with local and state government officials, meet with media and share our thoughts with some 150 of Buffalo’s local industry partners. The result: Our eyes were opened, our perceptions were changed and our positive, constructive feedback not only reaffirmed the pride and enthusiasm that was evident with everyone I met, but also it helped the local industry leaders see that Visit Buffalo Niagara is involved and connected at the national tourism level. They saw that Patrick and his team—including the fabulous Judy Smith and Leah Mueller—are working diligently on the destination’s behalf. I encourage other DMOs to “borrow” the idea of this summit, so let me give a few more details. It was a whirlwind trip to Buffalo, and they packed in a lot for us. Our guided city tour included stops to visit examples of the amazing revi- talization, including The Westin Buffalo, the Harborcenter Hotel and Ice Rinks, Hotel Henry and dinner at the Darwin Martin House, which was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The next morning we met with Mayor Byron Brown, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and shared our thoughts about what we had experienced the previous day. We next had a media meet-and-greet, and finally, we had lunch with local tourism industry reps and, during a panel discussion, shared our insights on trends and opportunities for the different market segments each of our associations represented. When I travel for work, there are two questions that always, immediately, come to mind as I’m experiencing a destination: Would I want to come back with my family? And what’s here for an NTA operator? In Buffalo, the answers were Yes! … and so much! And now that I’ve been, I really encourage my friends there to rethink their tagline. To me, it’s absolutely “Buffalo—Beyond Expectations.” Catherine Prather is the executive vice president of NTA.