Ottawa Travel Trade Learns About Neighbouring New York

with Peter Johansen

New York State prepares to meet agents at Ottawa event

The new National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY, home of Lucilled Ball.

The Sky Screamer is coming to Six Flags Darien Lake.

Visitors can travel back in time to a Dickens-style Christmas in Skaneateles, NY.

Security didn’t prevent a full-scale invasion last week of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa by travel advisors from such agencies as CAA and Expedia, tour operators and travel media, all with one mission in mind. They sought an update on what New York State has to offer Canadian visitors, especially in those regions hugging the international border. Their takeaway:  there’s plenty to keep visitors enchanted.

As it turns out, however, many Canadians already know that. As Christopher Quinlivan, the embassy’s minister counselor for commercial affairs noted, 3.1 million Canadians visited New York in 2016, making it the second most popular state for Canadian travellers. Numbers have grown in each of the past two years, he said, with a further 4% increase projected for 2018.

Markly Wilson, head of international marketing for the state’s tourism authority, says New York has invested heavily in tourism marketing and infrastructure, through initiatives ranging from a planned five-year refurbishment of JFK and LGA to a US$144 million commitment last year for 371 tourism-enhancement projects across the state.

“With approximately the same square metres as all of France,” he said, “there’s no reason you can’t send someone to New York City, which everyone knows about, and then send them upstate and make them happy there as well.”

Local representatives told Open Jaw about new draws in their areas:


  • In Syracuse, a winter fair debuts this February. Terming it “a condensed version” of the famous New York State Fair held in Syracuse each August, Kelly Fitzpatrick of Visit Syracuse said a new 100,000 square foot exposition centre will offer rides, farm animals, shows – all the fare of the summer event, and sheltered from wintry weather. Other highlights include a Dickensian Christmas in the nearby village of Skaneateles; the mammoth Beak and Skiff apple orchard, complete with kid-friendly petting zoo and wagon rides; Destiny U.S.A., the nation’s sixth largest shopping mall; and a 28-stop craft beverage trail.

  • Rochester’s visitor services honcho Gregory LaDuca was so confident of his city’s charms that he asked a local travel agent, Jerry Goudreault of AJ Travel, to speak about his familiarization visit this past year. Goudreault said he specializes in the special needs and LGBTQ markets, and is impressed with the ways in which Rochester serves both groups. He had special praise for Genesee Country Pioneer Village, a living history museum. For his part, LaDuca noted Rochester’s well-developed golf offerings will play host to the Senior PGA Championship in May; the celebrated Strong Museum of Play has just announced an expansion,  with  a new video game exhibit in the works; and a beverage trail that stretches to the Finger Lakes with about 50 stops.

  • Genesee County tourism marketer Lindsey Turrell touted a new swing ride at Six Flags Darien Lake amusement park that will be the tallest ride in New York, taking guests 24 stories in the air and spinning them in a 98-foot circle at speeds up to 55 km/h. But she added that the top contributor to county economics is agriculture, so agritourism is a top reason to visit; there's everything from dairy and alpaca farm tours to the Jell-O Museum, located where the dessert was invented. New restaurants include the county’s first vegan and Puerto Rican restaurants and Eli Fish Brewing offers a self-guided brewhouse tour and 20 western New York beers on tap.

  • Representing 13 upstate New York counties, including the Finger Lakes, Colleen Onuffer said her destinations could “offer a little bit of everything for everybody,” from wineries to historical tourism. Cayuga County just opened the Equal Rights Heritage Centre, for example, which she described as “a powerful and very inspiring” facility celebrating the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, LGBTQ rights and more. 

By contrast, the new National Comedy Center in Jamestown, home of comedienne Lucille Ball, is so interactive that visitors take a test to determine their preferred comedy style (maybe sarcasm or slapstick) and then experience exhibits in that light. “You can easily spend four or five hours there and still have more to do,” she told Open Jaw. In Oswego County, winter activities include ice fishing, snowshoeing, even ice climbing (“which sounds kind of extreme to me,” Onuffer admitted).

Also present was Paula Savage, who’s in charge of Canadian marketing for the state’s Department of Economic Development. She touted the 50th anniversary of the celebrated Woodstock music festival in 2019, which promises a month-long festival of concerts and other events; rail tours, which can be accessed from both Toronto and Montreal; and the Bicentennial Peace Garden trail, which threads together important sites associated with the War of 1812 in both New York and Ontario. 

“New York is a cost-effective way for Canadians to visit the U.S.A.,” she said. “Your dollar goes a lot farther because you’re not paying big city hotel rates. You’re close, and we’re your friendly neighbours.” And she said she’d learned that “Canadians don’t come down to New York; they cross over.”

Peter Johansen is an award-winning travel writer in Ottawa who taught journalism at Carleton University for 39 years.

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