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More visitors? Niagara Falls hopes to salvage part of COVID-crunched tourist season

Despite the gloom from earlier this year, some in the tourist trade say they've actually noticed a slight uptick in the number of visitors recently.

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — The tourism industry in Niagara Falls and other Niagara County communities to the north has been battered by the pandemic for the normally busy spring and summer seasons.

But 2 On Your Side found a bit of encouraging news regarding visitors this weekend.

Despite the gloom from earlier this year, some in the tourist trade say they've actually noticed a slight uptick in the number of visitors recently. That prompted the return of some features and attractions.

First and foremost the Discover Niagara Shuttle bus, which is funded by the hotel bed tax and various regional partners, is back until at least September 7. Now it includes the standard mask requirement and socially distanced spacing for passengers.

Aaron Dey of the Niagara Falls Heritage Area says it makes the 14-mile run to 17 attractions in the Falls and up north to Lewiston and Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown.

"The shuttle brings literally thousands of people to the fort who otherwise wouldn't go there, and that it's free helps out," Dey said.

One of those shuttle stops for tourists is the recently reopened Underground Railroad Heritage Center at the Falls Amtrak train station. Center staffer Saladin Allah notes the timing is appropriate.

"At our Underground Railroad Heritage Center, we highlight stories of freedom seekers of the past, and we tie in the story of social justice, and we enable people to have a safe space to discuss some of the topics we're discussing nationally right now," Allah said.

Back to the subject of visitors, overall in the Niagara Falls State Park on Saturday, there did seem to be a bit more activity from parking lots to foot traffic as compared to what observers saw several months ago.

Dey said, "Certainly the traffic this weekend is huge compared to the weekend before and the weekend before that so it keeps getting better. "

We spoke to some of those visitors. Some were from nearby within-driving range states.

For example, Alex Kiazand of Maryland told us, "I think it's pretty safe. Everybody is wearing a mask. Everybody is respecting social distancing. So all in all, it seems to be fine."

Stephanie Smykal, who lives near Philadelphia, said "I have my mask with me, so if I'm indoors and in a restaurant, I definitely wear it. When I'm outdoors I have no fear of corona ... catching it. I'm here to see the attractions."

Farris Salmon, visiting for New Jersey decided to take a chance to see the sights in the good weather. He noted: "Especially by where the waterfall is, everybody wants to take like nice pictures and everything, so everybody is kinda on top of each other. But everyone is wearing a mask. You see a lot of people sanitizing so it's OK."

Dey says while the shuttle bus is only running for a month at this point, they will evaluate the situation and may extend its operation into October to serve other travelers who may enjoy the fall season more-so.

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