June 1, 2013

Niagara Falls + the Niagara Wine Region

There was a time when Niagara Falls was the primary reason to travel to the Niagara region of Ontario.

There was a time when Niagara Falls ranked above Las Vegas, Hollywood, New York and other tourist locations in North America - It was even considered to be an ideal location to get married.

Tourism to Niagara Falls has dropped significantly in the last 30 years - but tourism to the Niagara region is up in recent years, not because of the waterfalls itself, but due to two factors.

1. Gambling casinos.

2. Winery and vineyard tours.

Today the biggest draws for people to visit Niagara Falls are not the falls itself, it is everything else a romantic couple or family could do in the region.

Gambling after all isn't really a family activity. So there are amusement parks, pools, arcades, things to keep the kids occupied while ma and pa gamble with their life's savings.

Or maybe ma and pa prefers to invest their life's savings in expensive wine bottles - which is arguably a very good investment as wine prices of expensive bottles always go up in value and are a more stable investment than real estate or gold futures.

It would therefore make sense for the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce (which is basically a consortium of local businesses including Niagara Falls hotels, resorts, spas, golf clubs, restaurants, stores, etc) to continually be working together to bring in more tourists so that they can spend spend spend!

Having people come for holiday trips is the bread and butter and the backbone of the Niagara Falls economy. But what if you could get other kinds of tourists too?

For example conferences and event hosting is BIG BUSINESS and Niagara Falls already has several conference centres.

The Niagara Falls Conference and Event Centre

The Scotiabank Convention Centre

The Sheraton Niagara Falls Conference Centre

And numerous other hotels in Niagara Falls also operate smaller convention/conference halls and rooms within their buildings. The idea is to host such large scale events - and then make a bundle off everyone who stays at your hotel, eats room service, eats at the hotel owned restaurant, etc.

It really is a case of "if you build it the people will come".

And to be fair Niagara Falls is a place where there is always going to be tourists. (Unless the zombies or cyborgs rise up.) Thus it makes sense that investing in tourism in Niagara Falls is a no brainer. The Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce just needs to get investors from the local businesses to expand and buy pieces in local tourism infrastructure.

Lets says for example if they wanted to build an "underwater convention centre" downstream from the waterfalls. Well then they would just need to invest in the architecture and engineering of building such a structure, get it built and watch the tourists flood in. (Haha, flood...)

Okay so maybe an underwater convention centre might be a bad idea - especially for people afraid of drowning - but it is still an opportunity for an underwater restaurant or even small hotel rooms.

So instead what they build is places like The Tower Hotel - see photo above right - which is just as gimmicky, but apparently people are less afraid of heights than they are drowning.

The hotel business in Niagara Falls is HUGE.

Every hotel is basically trying to lure in tourists with a different gimmick (or set of gimmicks). They might simply be trying the old classics of comfort, class, service and affordability - but there is more money to be made in offering gimmicks and then over-charging people for it.

One of the biggest things is the claim that your hotel has a "view of the falls".

Which is partially true - if you have a room on the upper floors that can actually see the waterfalls. If your room is on the lower floors there will likely be another hotel standing in the way and all you will get a view of is other hotels and the hotel parking lot.

Photos of hotels near the waterfalls all like to make out that their hotel is right next to the falls, and that there is no obstructions to the view. This is done due to the miracle of photoshop.

So if you are planning a trip to Niagara Falls and want "a suite with a view of the falls" then you will need to ask for a room on an upper floor.

Otherwise what you will discover is that all the hotels near the falls itself are mashed together in a few small blocks, each one that is further away being taller than the previous one just so they can make the claim that people can get a view of the falls - but only if you pay for a luxury suite near the top.

Looking at the four photos shown here of various Niagara Falls hotels you would think they are all built on the exact same spot.

But they're not. Its just cleverly done photoshop in which the other hotels have been removed and the hotel in question is the only one in the shot.

The only true way for you to get the full picture is to see a map of the area. A Google map for example, reveals a lot more.

All the big hotels are kept further back from the waterfalls, behind a thick line of trees - and while they all have views of the falls, if you have a room near the ground floor you will see nothing but trees, if your hotel is behind another hotel, you might see just parking lot, and it is really only if you pay extra for a luxury suite near the top that you get a room with a view.

And what if your room is on the wrong side of the building??? No view worth mentioning at all. Even the Tower Hotel has only half of its rooms facing towards the waterfalls.

But enough ranting.

If I was to visit Niagara Falls myself I would spend most of my time on a bicycle going from one wine tasting to the next - and cycling half-drunk between them at a leisurely pace. Probably would spend a lot of money and time in restaurants too, as all that wine would need to be balanced with food - and I would be hungry from cycling so much.

I definitely think cycling would be the way to go. Parking there must be atrocious. That would be a whole other rant entirely...

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