Features — 01 July 2012


Tie in to Tourism Traffic
It works in New York, and it could work anywhere

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By Bill Hilts, Jr.

Tourism is big business in the United States. It is one of the largest industries overall in this country and an important tool for the economy no matter where you are located. On the grassroots level, it all starts with the basic tourism attractions – be it natural or manmade – that work as magnets to draw people to a particular area. For example, Niagara Falls, N.Y., is recognized around the world as one of the premier natural wonders. Located in both Canada and Niagara County, one of 62 counties in the Empire State, Niagara Falls is the epitome of a tourist attraction. Millions of people every year flock to the mighty Cataracts of Niagara. Getting the word out about the area is spearheaded by Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation (NTCC).

Niagara USA becomes the destination, with Niagara Falls the primary tool to attract the masses. The job of NTCC is to market Niagara County as a whole, in addition to the western New York region. The story it tells has to be all-encompassing, documenting all the attractions, accommodations, restaurants and outdoor resources that are available to tourists when they visit the area. If you are a club that offers shooting, a commercial shooting range or you have a special event to share with the general public, an agency like NTCC is the place to channel your efforts if you are interested in promotion and marketing. Take a look at NTCC’s web page detailing shooting opportunities in the area.  You should have a similar listing on your local tourism promotion agency’s website.

NTCC is a not-for-profit tourism marketing agency.  Around the country, similar groups, such as a Convention and Visitors Bureau, a Chamber of Commerce or a county/regional tourism office can be your go-to entity for marketing your offerings.

“The shooting sports industry needs to realize that they, too, are an attraction in and of itself,” said John Percy, president and CEO of NTCC. “Not only do they offer something that visitors may want to become involved with, but they also offer a service that can keep people here longer. Bottom line is the longer people stay in our area, the greater their economic impact.”

Two-way street

When it comes to marketing and promotion, it’s definitely a two-way street. Clubs and ranges can not only promote their facilities, but they can also promote special events such as registered shoots through a tourism agency, CVB or Chamber office. If it’s a membership organization, like a Chamber, join it.

“Don’t be afraid to use us as a resource,” says Melissa Morinello, director of marketing and communications with NTCC. “We can market your special events in the area, provide listings of area shooting clubs on our website and help to create a better awareness of the shooting sports in general. We can even help provide some local media coverage and assist with press releases when bigger state and regional events are taking place on our doorstep. It’s our job to promote the area, and shooting is part of that. The best part is that it’s all free for the most part.”

Perhaps, however, you may have to educate your local tourism office or Chamber as to what you bring to the table. If that’s the case, invite some key people out for a shooting session to break the ice and include them on the planning committee when you are scheduling special events at your shooting facility.

The sportfishing industry in Niagara USA is quite large. The annual economic impact is estimated at $30 million. Some local charter captains will work with outdoor shooting attractions by offering possible sporting clays challenges or shooting instruction when the weather turns poor and fishing isn’t a viable option, but shooting is. It keeps customers interested when a morning delay is required before they can get back on the water.

At the same time, those clubs and shooting operations can utilize the area’s attractions to entice more people to come and participate in a sanctioned shoot or shooting-related event such as a gun show or consumer trade show.

“We’ve been encouraging shooters to bring their wives along for years,” said Rich Falcone of Lewiston, N.Y. Falcone runs registered shoots through the Fin-Feather-Fur Conservation Society (Three-F Club), attracting shooters from all over New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey and Ontario, Canada. They’ll even occasionally get shooters in from the Carolinas and other states, too.

“In our area, Niagara Falls has always been at the top of the list of attractions, of course,” reflected Falcone. “But we have many, many other attractions that are extremely appealing. Shopping is always a big attraction. More and more we’re seeing people take advantage of our rich historical heritage with Fort Niagara just around the corner. And with the Niagara Wine Trail being one of the fastest-growing trails in the country, we can keep people entertained for days. Throw in the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, and you can start to see what I mean. The casino recently built a superb golf course – rated 6th in the country – in Hickory Stick, located in Lewiston near our club. We also have world-class fishing in the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Some people end up coming back just to vacation with the whole family!”

Reaching out to the local tourist attractions earns big dividends for the club in that it brings people back year after year. At the same time, it attracts new shooters to their events.

“We are fortunate to have so many attractions on our door step, be it natural or manmade,” Falcone said. “You have to take advantage of what you have to offer. For example, our September shoot focuses on fall foliage, local festivals and the fall salmon run in addition to some of the things I already mentioned, like the wineries. They are becoming very popular and people look forward to their visit here.”

Central New York tourist trap

Yes, you could call it a tourist “trap,” of sorts. The New York State Trapshooting Association (NYSATA), operating out of the Home Grounds in Cicero (10 miles north of Syracuse), is high on using the regional attractions to entice shooters, and their families, to central New York. One of the main reasons for it is because one of the prime movers and shakers in the organization is affiliated with the Oswego County Tourism offices.

Jim Wright of Fulton, N.Y., who is central vice president of NYSATA, is the main contact when shooters are coming into the area for one of the group’s big events. In a good year, NYSATA will host the Empire Grand American in May, the New York State Shoot in July, the Eastern Zone Championship in July and the Northeastern Grand American in September.

“We can run as many as 550 shooters in a day,” says Wright. “Every year for the Empire Grand we will line up a bus to take the nonshooters, mainly spouses, to Turning Stone Casino.  That’s only one example of our catering to the attendees through tourism. Since the Home Grounds is adjacent to Oneida Lake, we’re seeing more and more of our shooters bring along a boat with them to spend some time on the water. People will ask me questions on what’s to see and do in the area, and I’ll talk as long as they are willing to listen. We have a wealth of tourism information available, and I have access to it all.”

Wright is used to talking to people. One of his tasks with the tourism office is to attend sport, travel and outdoor consumer shows around the Northeast. He has a good handle on not only what’s available in Oswego County, but in the entire state. It makes him a valuable asset to NYSATA.

Wright also uses the tourism offices to list shooting clubs and promote special events in which the state association, as well as the local clubs, are involved.

“We try to do our part to promote central New York, and our friends in the tourism industry pay back the favor. We work hand-in-hand,” Wright added.

Use Local Media Effectively

Local media should be an important component of the tourism package, too. Shooting venues should already be in tune with the local outdoor writer or other staff member who covers the shooting sports. Educate them on possible story opportunities, from youth and women shooting events to competition shoots that will be of interest to their readers. This is expected. One of the big keys is to break the barrier and get a shooting venue into the general interest news. Utilize the media contacts that the local tourism office or Chamber of Commerce has available to develop a rapport with reporters. It is your job to create the story topics that demonstrate that your shooting facility is one of the recreational venues of interest to tourists to your area.

You should have your homework complete before you reach out to the media. Have a brainstorming session to come up with a list of possible story opportunities. Youth or women events are always good starting points. Organize a celebrity shoot for media and local political leaders. Not only are you creating a newsworthy event, but it can go a long way in building contacts.

Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Tell people what you’ve accomplished, especially among your peers. Submit nominations for local sportsman/conservation awards. Rich Falcone and his Fin-Feather-Fur Conservation Society, a.k.a., Three F Club, is a great example. Falcone was recognized as Sportsman of the Year in 2011 with the Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs. The Three F Club has been recipient of the Club of the Year award many times. All of this helps to create a better awareness for the club itself and creates fodder for the local media outlets and tourism association promotional material. It’s not a bad idea to create a public relations position with the club to be the contact to and for the media.

Finally, get involved. Do things that can be respected within the community. Last year, Falcone spearheaded a “Shoot for the Cure,” a 100-target skeet shoot for the Relay for Life – a fund raiser for the American Cancer Society. The Three F Club raised more than $2,600 in 2011. This year the club has five shooters on the field, all raising money and cancer awareness. It’s another reason to tie into a tourism agency, Chamber, CVB or media outlet. And it’s for a good cause.

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