NEW YORK—The city has been attracting more international visitors than ever, reaching a record number of this year (52 million). One of three international visitors to the United States now visit New York City.
“No other city in America even comes close to that,” said George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism office.
The city with the second highest market share of international visitors is Los Angeles with 13 percent.
Officials have a goal for 55 million visitors by 2015. There is a threshold, said Fertitta, but he wouldn’t say what he thinks that threshold is.
Many facets make up New York’s steady—and continuing—ascendance. Though the city lost out on its bid for the 2012 Olympics, a wave of projects were swept through. Lower Manhattan has recovered—too much, some say—from 9/11. And the traditional destinations, such as Times Square and the Rockefeller Center area, are accentuated by a growing number of areas, including Harlem. Furthermore, the new Hudson Yards development, including the extension of the number 7 subway and the third section of the High Line, will add another space, while a gigantic roller coaster is being pushed forward for Staten Island.
The bottom line is we’ve just got to keep making New York more exciting and more attractive.
—Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Despite the economic uncertainty in many places, and Hurricane Sandy, New York’s tourism numbers were better than ever.
“The bottom line is we’ve just got to keep making New York more exciting and more attractive,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “And there are people who, in spite of the economic fluctuations around the world, will take a vacation, or will move, or will come to shop and things like that.”
Bloomberg and Fertitta spoke at the Museum of Natural History on Manhattan’s Upper West Side; the museum itself draws roughly five million visitors, including 50 percent international visitors, said President Ellen Futter.
Other city tourism records broken in 2012 include 29 million hotel room nights sold and $504 million garnered in hotel tax revenue.
The tourism industry in the city employs 356,000 New Yorkers, according to the mayor’s office, and visitors to the city directly spent almost $37 billion, which translates to an estimated $55 billion in economic impact.
Sandy Impact and Future Tourism Growth
Several reporters asked Bloomberg about the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which shut down Lower Manhattan for days and crippled the city’s infrastructure in some areas for weeks or even months.
A recent tour of Lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport area showed multiple businesses either struggling to re-open or, having re-opened, struggling to bring in enough customers.
The storm’s overall impact on tourism wasn’t much, said Bloomberg.
“The economy here is so big that it’s really hard to argue that Sandy hurt [tourism],” said Bloomberg, adding that the storm did impact millions across the city.
-52 million visitors
-41 million domestic
-11 million international
-$504 million tax revenue (hotel)
-29 million hotel room nights sold
The mayor credits the increase in visitors to the city’s reputation as “the safest city in the United States.”
Hosting big events like the 2014 Super Bowl and continuing to attract more and more international travelers (who spend more than domestic travelers) is key, said Jonathan Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants, during a recent forum.
Fertitta of NYC & Company agrees, noting the agency has worked for the last six years on expanding its international presence at events such as trade shows, and how they want visitors to stay longer and spend more money.
Problems with Tourism
Some negatives associated with increased tourism include congestion and more trash, which can diminish quality of life for residents.
“The influx of tourists exacerbates the area’s transportation challenges,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of Manhattan’s Community Board 1, at a recent City Council hearing about tourism in Lower Manhattan, according to a transcript. Increased numbers of vehicles in the downtown area include double-decker buses, tour buses, commuter buses, and taxis.
The many pedestrians in the area, particularly around the 9/11 Memorial, have crowded the sidewalks, said Hughes.
Lower Manhattan traffic has surged in the last several years, as World Trade Center construction pushes forward. Almost 10 million tourists visited the area in 2011, almost one million more than the previous year, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York.
The Alliance and other groups, including NYC & Company, are working on addressing the problems associated with tourism while attracting more tourists, said officials at the City Council hearing.
It’s a touchy interplay between the residents of the city, who want to live their daily lives, and tourists, said Mayor Bloomberg.
“It’s a constant battle to improve our city,” he said, “and then explain it to people.”
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