Mayor Adams celebrates tourism (Photo: Michael Appleton/Office of the Mayor)
The COVID-19 pandemic torpedoed what had been record New York tourism, but the past year has seen an upturn to pre-pandemic numbers. Reports from NYC & Company, the city’s official marketing and tourism partner, predict that by the end of 2022, 56.7 million visitors will have come to the city, or about 85% of the 66.6 million who visited in 2019.
Experts say the goal is to get back to pre-pandemic numbers, and the same New York Travel and Tourism Outlook Report is expected to reach 63.7 million tourists by the end of 2023.
“It’s been a long journey over the past two years and it’s certainly taken a toll on many of us in our industries, but visitors are responding to New York and coming from afar,” said Fred Dixon, president and chief from the leadership of NYC & Company, speaking on June 29 at “Accelerating NYC’s Tourism Recovery,” an event organized by Center for an Urban Future, a think tank.
Dixon spoke with Center for an Urban Future CEO Jonathan Bowels in a post-panel interview.
Panelists included Nikoa Evans, executive director of Harlem Park to Park; Peter Madonia, chairman of the Belmont Business Improvement District; Anthony Ramirez, co-owner of the Bronx Beer Hall; Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance; and Tim Tompkins, director of SharedCitySharedSpace and former president of Times Square Alliance. Eli Dvorkin of the Center for an Urban Future posed questions to the panel.
Panelists said part of pursuing tourism recovery is “reshaping the city’s narratives” and ensuring the city has cleaner and safer public spaces.
Times Square has been frequently mentioned as a place in Manhattan in which the city government should invest in order to strengthen its status as a cultural hub and attract tourists, and to ‘reshape the narrative’ of the pandemic that it has harbored increases in crime and homelessness.
Rigie said he’d like to see the city invest in converting empty office space in Times Square into places for social gatherings, like nightclubs and conference centers, which he says could help spur growth. both business travel and tourism, as well as shaping Midtown into more of a social hub.
Panelists also discussed the city’s hospitality industry and the challenges facing hospitality tourism as the city continues to retreat from the pandemic.
NYC & Company’s Tourism Outlook Report showed the city added 20,000 rooms to hotel inventory in 2021 and 5,000 more in 2022, reaching 123,000 rooms to date. These numbers were made up of a mix of reactivated inventory (many after the 2020 pandemic closures) and new properties. Currently, over 7,000 rooms are expected to be added by 2024.
COVID-related travel restrictions were lifted in November 2021 and international tourism rebounded in 2022, with 8.3 million such tourists expected to visit by the end of the year, to continue growing in 2023.
Dixon attributes current and projected increases in international tourism to recent federal decision remove covid testing requirements for international travellers.
Panelists mentioned the importance of encouraging local tourism as well, in the boroughs and the tri-state area, which frequently send day visitors to New York from suburban areas.
Ramirez suggested implementing incentives to use social media and pay local creators to promote the city’s cultural touchstones and local venues as a way to advertise and increase tourism. But, reference to controversy who surrounded the popularity of “Joker Stairs” in the Bronx, he also said it was important to encourage responsible and respectful tourism, which can become difficult in the age of social media and locals’ reluctance to transform their neighborhoods into tourist attractions. .
Panelists said that in rebuilding the city’s tourism sector, it’s important to create experiences where visitors can essentially travel the world just by coming to New York and experiencing its diverse culture. Some said it might also be worth taking a closer look at what other cities and countries are doing to attract tourists and implementing similar practices in New York.
Panelists also mentioned encouraging public spaces and restaurants to be places where people spend more time if they wish, to some extent abandoning the typical fast pace of New York in favor of a reminiscent of the European style. Madonia suggested bringing something grand to the city, using the London Eye ferris wheel as a point of reference.
In a broader sense, panelists also said it might be helpful to take strategies from other US cities that are making progress in terms of tourism, specifically mentioning Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Tompkins also suggested holding more cultural and musical events inspired by popular jazz festivals in cities like New Orleans, Newport and Copenhagen.
According analysis per the Center for an Urban Future, the pandemic has seen a nearly $1 billion drop in revenue for city-based arts organizations, a 36% decrease from a year before the pandemic.
Other active efforts to increase tourism mentioned at the event included the efforts of the city to bring the 2024 Democratic National Convention to New York.
“New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic, and now we’re leading the recovery. And the convention will inject hundreds of millions more dollars into our economy in a part of the city that’s been among the hardest hit.” , he added. Mayor Eric Adams said in a May announcement regarding the bid, which proposes Madison Square Garden as the main event site, with the Javits Center hosting other components, and the city’s robust attractions, transportation system in common and the diverse Democratic base as selling points. .
In the audience Q&A portion of the roundtable, a participant from the Bronx asked what could be done in neighborhoods that currently don’t carry the same clout as well-known tourist destinations to increase visitor flow.
Panelists suggested further collaboration with NYC & Company and highlighted the importance of the city allocating more resources to communities to support local businesses and boost visitor potential.
Madonia, who spoke about the Bronx’s Little Italy on Arthur Avenue, said it can sometimes take years, even decades, for neighborhoods to have the same level of recognition that will attract more tourists and visitors.
For tourism to grow in underrepresented boroughs and neighborhoods, like the Bronx, panelists said there needs to be more coordination between community councils, local community leaders and other city resources to to increase bandwidth for small organizations in need of support, and to make navigating the bureaucracy of the city more accessible.
Evans noted that she partnered with Captivate Marketing Group President Yvonne McNair to co-found the Harlem Festival of Culture, modeled after the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, and slated to take place in the summer of 2023.
The event is expected to attract significant numbers of visitors from around the world, particularly following increased interest in the 1969 festival which was featured in the 2021 Oscar-winning documentary “Summer of Soul”. Evans said said the event can be a beacon of hope for neighborhoods that are often left out of the conversation when it comes to city tourism.
“I would like to ask us to redefine what cultural property means. Yes, there is money that goes to culture, but generally you think of it, it’s museums, it’s public art, etc. of New York could be a valuable part of the city’s tourism recovery. “A lot of the focus, when you say ‘cultural funding’, is the institutions, and it’s actually the community where I say the resources need to be mobilised.
During his post-panel appearance, NYC & Company’s Dixon also said it was important for the city to prioritize funding for New Yorkers to enable their involvement in reviving tourism in the city, referring to a partnership 2020 with the Public Art Fund which commissioned 50 emerging New York-based artists to create art in the boroughs. This effort was intended to help these artists survive the pandemic and engage New Yorkers at a time when few people left their neighborhoods or the city.
Dixon also spoke more about the statistics from the NYC & Company report, expressing positivity about the progress seen in the tourism industry since the early challenges of the pandemic. He said he also expects to see additional economic support from city and state governments, including increased funding for paid media in the city’s recently approved fiscal year 2023 budget.
Asked about things he might be concerned about in terms of challenges for the tourism sector in the future, Dixon mentioned inflationary pressures, climate change, and also returned to the narrative surrounding the city when it comes to security. However, in conversation with tourism experts from other cities, he said he did not see concerns about the perceived crime problem in New York extending far beyond the area of three states, saying the city was often his worst critic.
“New York has the experience people want right now, and we’re showcasing it,” he said of NYC & Company’s efforts to increase inclusion of diverse groups, local creators and small businesses. on the road to the recovery of tourism to the city. “Our grassroots effort encourages people to come to New York for the icons you know and love, but also to get into the community and support small businesses.”