Western New York’s share of visitor dollars surpasses pre-pandemic era
Buffalo, N.Y. (Sept. 20, 2023) – Visitor economic impact in Erie County has surpassed pre-pandemic levels: Traveler spending rose 14 percent and hit a record $2.2 billion in 2022, according to a new economic impact study. Dollars spent in Buffalo and Erie County accounted for 64 percent of Western New York’s tourism sales.
“We finally broke $2 billion,” said Patrick Kaler, Visit Buffalo Niagara’s president and CEO. “It’s an exciting moment in the history of tourism for the region. Buffalo’s appeal as a visitor destination has never been stronger. These numbers validate that.”
For Kaler, the numbers held more good news: While visits from Canadian travelers are still 25 percent below pre-pandemic levels, the 2022 spending went beyond the $1.8 billion total of 2019. This means a new constituency of travelers has found Buffalo, he said. Numbers show that people are coming from places with direct flights to Buffalo, like Washington, D.C. They also stay longer and spend more while they’re here, said Kaler. “We have new potential markets,” he said. “We’re looking at developing those.”
The study, published this month, was commissioned by New York State and conducted by the Oxford Economics Company, Tourism Economics. It showed that the largest share of spending, 34 percent, went to food and drink. Lodging got 18 percent. Arts and culture, in the recreation category, was 11 percent.
The contributing factors for the 2022 spending increase? Pent up energy for travel left over from the pandemic era and Buffalo’s uniqueness, said Kaler. The region’s waterfront location, its arts and culture and its global food scene all contribute to make this a compelling destination, he said.
Now that meetings and conventions and business travel returned to pre-pandemic strength, he expects the numbers will climb as visitors take in the newly re-opened Buffalo AKG Art Museum. “We have whet the appetite of people, so that they’ll tell their friends and family and come back to Buffalo,” said Kaler.
Tourism is not only good for local business, it helps everyone, he said. The numbers show that visitor spending covers about $600 worth of taxes on a household bill. “The good thing about visitors is that they come in, they have a great experience, they spend lots of money and they don’t need our services, such as police, fire and schools. Yet their dollars provide those things for our residents,” said Kaler.
Visitors are coming because of highlights like the waterfront and cultural stops and for meetings in the newly updated Buffalo Convention Center, said Kaler. The new numbers underline another strength revealed in a 2022 resident survey by Longwoods International and commissioned by Visit Buffalo Niagara.
According to the study, people in Erie County like tourists. Seven in 10 welcome them. Two thirds take time to show off highlights to visiting friends and family. Locals consider themselves to be ambassadors. They believe tourism improves quality of life. Most credit it for boosting the economy, preserving local culture, protecting natural resources, and helping the environment.
“It does show that we are the ‘City of Good Neighbors,’” Kaler said. “It’s a good thing because it makes a visitor feel more welcome.”
Given the local efforts behind the city’s renaissance, the new tourist spending totals should be especially gratifying, he said. “Buffalonians should be very proud of everything we’ve accomplished in recent years. It’s paying off and the research confirms that people want to come visit.”
Kaler expects that the increase will also demonstrate that it is a good time to invest in things, like more hotel rooms, a bigger hotel, waterfront development, restaurants and downtown stores and other related infrastructure. This includes the effort to develop Buffalo into a cruise ship port. “This gives the community more opportunity for economic growth,” said Kaler.
Find the complete 2022 tourism reports online here.