6 Ideas to Boost New York’s Hard-Hit Tourism Economy.

Event - September 2020

6 Ideas to Boost New York’s Hard-Hit Tourism Economy.

On September 9, the Center for an Urban Future held a virtual policy forum to explore what city leaders and policymakers can do to help New York City’s hard-hit tourism economy restart and get on the road to recovery.

Tags: tourism economic growth coronavirus retail creative sector arts

No part of New York City’s economy has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic—or is facing a longer road to recovery—than the tourism sector. The crisis has brought the tourism economy to a near-standstill after years of record growth that had made it one of the city’s leading drivers of job creation. Prior to the pandemic, 66.6 million tourists visited the city in 2019, collectively spending tens of billions of dollars and supporting more than 300,000 jobs at hotels, restaurants, airports, retail stores, theatres, museums, and in many other industries. CUF's September 9th forum, “Laying the Groundwork for a Tourism Recovery in NYC,” convened two expert panels featuring leaders in tourism from across the world and within the five boroughs, which surfaced several concrete ideas to help support struggling businesses and institutions in the tourism economy today, while getting the sector firmly on the path to long-term recovery.

Check out the video of our forum, which was generously supported by Airbnb and Times Square Alliance and featured Fred Dixon of NYC & Company; Joe D'Alessandro of San Francisco Travel; Tracy Halliwell of London & Partners; and Emmanuelle Legault of Tourisme Montréal; as well as New York City Council Member Keith Powers; chef, author, and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson; Olga Tirado of the Bronx Tourism Council; Alexandra Dagg of Airbnb; and Tim Tompkins of Times Square Alliance.

Some of the specific policy ideas put forward during the discussion include:

  • Greatly expand efforts to turn out New Yorkers to become tourists in their own city. After 9/11, supporting the city’s small businesses and cultural institutions became a patriotic act. Today, the city’s economic challenges are even greater, but the crisis has yet to galvanize the same level of local and national support. The city should work with high-profile local celebrities, business leaders, and community advocates in every borough to build on NYC & Company’s new “All in NYC” campaign and make a highly visible call for New Yorkers to support small businesses, cultural attractions, shops, and restaurants and enjoy all the city has to offer. New York can draw from the playbook of London’s “Because I’m a Londoner” campaign and encourage New Yorkers to safely rediscover the city they call home.
  • Create discount and incentive programs to spur local tourism. New York can go beyond just calling on residents to do their part by sponsoring programs that provide discounts to people who eat out at restaurants, spend in local retail stores, or attend cultural institutions. The UK government sponsored an “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme that provided customers with a government-backed 50 percent discount on restaurant spending of up to 10 British pounds each for three days a week throughout the month of August, and Montreal has recently launched a “passport” that provides deals on restaurants and attractions and free admission to many museums. New York City should incorporate aspects of both programs to jumpstart local tourism.
  • Reactivate Midtown and other destination commercial districts. Without the masses of international tourists and daily influx of hundreds of thousands of office workers, Midtown and much of Manhattan's commercial core can seem empty and even desolate, despite the reopening of many restaurants, retailers, and other businesses. The city should follow the lead of Montreal and activate Midtown and other destination districts through cultural programming, sponsored activities, and socially distanced events that will draw people back and remind them of the allure of these vibrant neighborhoods. The city should also prioritize public safety and sanitation to ensure a welcoming environment for residents as well as visitors from across the tri-state area.
  • Unite all of New York State through a coordinated marketing campaign. Cities and regions across New York State ought to join together in a “New York for New Yorkers” campaign, and state government should take the lead and provide the funding needed to make it successful. With the whole of New York maintaining consistently low rates of coronavirus infection, it’s safe for New Yorkers from Buffalo to Brooklyn to travel within the state. Acting together, tourism agencies in the Hudson Valley and Long Island can encourage their residents to dine out in New York City, and tourism officials in the five boroughs can reciprocate by encouraging city residents to head up the Hudson for hiking and apple picking, or out east to visit vineyards and enjoy the beach. But to bring together tourism bodies from Niagara Falls to Staten Island, the state should take the lead, as only the state government has the means to coordinate and broadcast the campaign to all corners of the Empire State. New York should follow the example of California, which coordinated the “Calling all Californians” campaign where Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Napa Valley, and other cities and destinations banded together to support local businesses across the state.
  • Fund NYC & Company to broadcast New York’s success story and change the narrative. NYC & Company, New York’s official destination marketing organization and visitor’s bureau, is heavily reliant on funding from city contracts that varies from year to year and has been drastically reduced in light of the city's current budget woes. But NYC & Company’s role as the city’s official marketer is needed now more than ever to let the world know that New York City is far from dead—in fact, it’s done far better than the rest of the country at flattening the pandemic curve and keeping rates low. The city should increase baseline funding for NYC & Company and work with the state to pilot a consistent stream of future revenues, such as dedicating a small portion of taxes from hotel and other accomodations stays to fund tourism marketing and promotion. With more resources and reliable funding, NYC & Company can do even more to seize control of the media narrative and renew the dynamic, exciting image of New York City for New Yorkers, Americans, and people across the globe.
  • Enlist NYC’s creatives to promote NYC. Who better to extoll the dynamism, creativity, and energy of New York City than the artists, musicians, filmmakers, and designers who call the city home? The city should launch a Works Progress Administration–style program that hires out-of-work artists and creatives to lend their voices and talents in support of New York City. Artists and designers would respond to a single, cohesive brief—as laid out in the All in NYC campaign—but interpret it with their own individual spin. Showcasing the diversity and talent of New York’s creative sector, providing a much-needed paycheck to struggling artists, and fueling the re-emergence of New York’s tourism sector would be a win for all involved.

CUF Executive Director Jonathan Bowles moderated the first panel, which included the following panelists:

  • Fred Dixon, President & CEO, NYC & Company
  • Joe D'Alessandro, President & CEO, San Francisco Travel
  • Tracy Halliwell, ‎Director of Tourism, Conventions & Major Events, London & Partners
  • Emmanuelle Legault, Vice President of Marketing & Strategy, Tourisme Montréal

CUF Editorial and Policy Director Eli Dvorkin moderated the second panel, which included the following panelists:

  • Council Member Keith Powers, New York City Council
  • Marcus Samuelsson, Owner, Red Rooster Harlem; Author, The Rise
  • Olga Tirado, Executive Director, Bronx Tourism Council & Host, Go Bronx Podcast
  • Alexandra Dagg, Senior Policy Director for the Northeast and Canada, Airbnb
  • Tim Tompkins, President, Times Square Alliance

A video of the full discussion is available here.

This symposium is made possible through generous support from Airbnb and Times Square Alliance. We are also grateful for general support from The Clark Foundation and the Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation, and ongoing support from a number of other philanthropic funders.