Make tourism a larger part of the city’s economic development agenda
The tourism economy sustains more jobs in New York than the finance and tech sectors, and boasts four times as many jobs as manufacturing.139 Tourism has become one of the four most important sectors driving New York’s economy, yet it remains just a small part of the city’s approach to economic growth. In part, this is due to the strength of New York’ s highly capable tourism and marketing promotion organization, NYC & Company, which is solely focused on the sector. Moreover, other industries like life sciences, fintech, and manufacturing are undoubtedly better suited to the levers that economic development agencies have at their disposal, including economic incentives and incubators. But New York’s vital tourism economy faces a growing number of threats and challenges that the city’s tourism promotion agency can’t address alone. For New York City to thrive in the decade ahead, tourism needs to become a larger part of the city’s economic development strategy.
Make tourism part of the mayor’s 100,000 good jobs plan.
In 2017, Mayor de Blasio admirably launched a plan to create 100,000 good jobs in New York City over the next decade. Tourism should be a crucial part of the strategy. With industries fueled by tourism projected to create more good jobs than nearly any other industry by 2024, increasing the role of tourism jobs in the mayor’s plan makes economic sense. But that projected growth is just the tip of the iceberg. With sustained attention from policymakers, tourism can become an enormous source of good job growth in the years to come. What’s more, a larger share of tourism jobs is held by immigrants, young people, and workers with limited educational attainment than in other fast-growing industries. As a result, good tourism jobs spread their benefits more equitably across the five boroughs, allowing a more diverse array of New Yorkers to access middle-class jobs.
Create a five-year plan for tourism.
New York has had tremendous success over the past two decades in attracting record numbers of tourists. But although the city has benefited enormously from this growth, policymakers have done little to plan around it. Adding 30 million tourists over the past two decades leads to a host of specific and addressable challenges: Where to park the tour buses that flood the neighborhoods near Times Square? How to better handle street and sidewalk congestion in tourist-heavy neighborhoods? What can planners do to ensure that the boroughs outside Manhattan are prepared to share in the benefits of increased visitation? New York City should develop a five-year plan that is attuned to the unique challenges of sustaining more than 60 million tourists per year. This will require a joint effort among the city’s Economic Development Corporation, NYC & Company, and the Department of City Planning, as well as the collaboration of agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Department of Small Business Services.
Increase NYC & Company’s budget to help New York compete in the global tourism market.
While few global cities can compete with New York’s top-rate cultural institutions and staggering range of amenities and choices, other cities have an edge when it comes to affordability and convenience. At the same time, the strong U.S. dollar and harmful immigration policies may be posing new threats to the sustained health of the tourism industry, even as a growing middle class creates new opportunities across the globe. In this increasingly complex and competitive environment, New York would be wise to devote more resources to boosting its image and cultivating new tourism markets.
Currently, the city spends less on tourism promotion than Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Barcelona, among others, and the budget of NYC & Company, the city’s tourism promotion agency, has declined 22 percent since its peak in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.140 The city should increase NYC & Company’s budget to help bolster New York’s ability to compete as a travel destination and counter some of the threats and challenges to the sustained health of the tourism economy.
Develop a dashboard for the tourism economy at NYCEDC.
New York City’s economic development agency is responsible for tracking trends in the city’s economy and produces economic research and analysis of various industries ranging from the creative and tech sectors to healthcare and life sciences. Given the increasing importance of tourism to the city’s economy, NYCEDC should develop a top-level tourism dashboard to join these other key sectors. The tourism portal would support better planning by presenting up-to-date data on job trends across tourism-related industries.
Expand efforts to market the city’s neighborhoods as tourist destinations.
Even as tourism numbers reach record highs, huge swaths of the city still present enormous untapped opportunities to benefit from the growth in tourism. From cultural institutions and music venues to diverse restaurants, specialty markets, and unique neighborhood experiences, many communities across the five boroughs can offer tourists underexplored gems. But today the vast majority of tourists remain in the central parts of Manhattan, despite notable tourism growth in the other boroughs. To its credit, NYC & Company is focused on marketing destinations in every borough and ensuring that the benefits of tourism are widely dispersed. But there is still much more opportunity to expand tourism promotion in every borough. NYC & Company should increase these efforts, which could include better connecting major tourism draws to the offerings available in nearby neighborhoods. The city can do more to promote these natural partnerships, like the Bronx Zoo and the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, or the U.S. Open and restaurants in nearby Flushing.
Help New York City’s emerging travel-tech industry to start up and grow.
New York’s tech sector thrives at the intersection of existing industries and new technology, whether in finance, advertising, health, or media. Given the city’s booming tourism economy—which far exceeds that of the Bay Area or Boston, New York’s closest rivals in terms of tech jobs—it makes sense that start-up companies working in the travel industry would gravitate to New York. Our research identified at least 16 venture-backed travel-tech companies that have been founded in New York City in just the past five years, and today there are more than 400 entrepreneurs working on travel-tech products at Voyager HQ, the city’s only networking space focused on travel startups. But unlike tech subsectors such as biotech or fintech, which are supported by a sophisticated ecosystem of incubators and accelerators, the nascent travel-tech industry has very few existing resources in New York City for founders looking to start companies and grow. Although the past three years have seen the launch of more than a dozen travel-focused accelerators in places from Silicon Valley to Berlin to Tel Aviv, there are currently none in New York. NYC EDC should build on existing efforts to nurture the city’s start-up ecosystem by fostering the development of a travel-tech incubator space. In addition, city economic development officials can encourage companies with existing travel-tech start-up programs and significant business interests in New York—such as JetBlue and Marriott—to consider launching new outposts of their accelerators in New York City.
Expand efforts to help small businesses take advantage of the growing tourism market.
With more tourists interested in experiencing New York as locals do, NYC & Company should expand its important Tourism Ready program to help small businesses—including local restaurants, small venues, and specialty stores—market themselves to tourists as a real taste of New York. These resources could include help training and recruiting multilingual staff, advice on marketing to tourists, and opportunities to raise the visibility of their businesses through citywide tourism marketing efforts. NYC & Company should collaborate with the Department of Small Business Services to make that agency’s services available to businesses that are fueled by tourism.
Invest in the infrastructure required to sustain a healthy tourism economy
As tourism booms, investments in New York City’s tourism infrastructure have failed to keep pace. The addition of nearly 30 million more tourists over the past two decades has fueled economic growth across the city, but the city has made few changes to accommodate this influx. To sustain this level of visitation over the long term, the city and state will have to expand the capacity and accessibility of airports, public transit, roads, side- Destination New York 33 walks, and parking, as well as invest in improvements to the visitor experience. These investments will be critical to support New York’s tourism economy, while helping to mitigate some of the frustrations that result from a historic increase in visitors without corresponding improvements to the city’s tourism infrastructure.
Improve access to the airports.
To sustain 60-plus million tourists every year, New York City will have to continue improving access to its airports, including both public transit connections and road access. If tourism—and the benefits it brings—is to increase further, the state, working with the Port Authority, the MTA, and DOT, needs to ensure that more tourists can easily get to and from the airport on public transportation, and that improvements to the roadways speed up access to the airports.
- Build a transit connection to LaGuardia Airport. Public transit to and from LaGuardia is currently limited to a handful of slow bus routes. As a result, 86 percent of passengers travel to that airport by car. Serious consideration should be given to direct rail links from the airport to the subway in Astoria, which would be the quickest route to Manhattan, but Governor Cuomo’s plan to connect with the 7 train and Long Island Rail Road at Willets Point could be a practical alternative.
- Reduce congestion on the Van Wyck Expressway. Governor Cuomo has announced improvements to the Van Wyck, and it is essential that these longoverdue changes are implemented soon. Although city and state policymakers should be prioritizing steps to promote increased use of the AirTrain and other transit connections to the airports, many tourists—including a large chunk of business travelers—will likely continue to opt for taxis and ground transportation options. As a result, it’s vital for these roadway improvements to proceed. DOT should also look at the option of allowing smaller commercial vehicles to use the Belt Parkway, which could ease demand on the Van Wyck. At a time when the airport’s passenger traffic continues to set new records each year, improving road access to JFK will benefit millions of visitors annually, as well as millions more New Yorkers.
Modernize the outdated air traffic control system.
To accommodate current levels of tourist visitation, as well as the millions of city residents who use the city’s airports, New York City needs to expand the capacity of its airports. But the city’s airports are hamstrung by an outdated national air traffic control system, which results in longer ground delays, less efficient routing, and larger gaps between departing and arriving aircraft. To upgrade the country’s air transportation system for the future, Congress needs to support sustained funding for NextGen, a new evolution in air traffic control technology that has been nearly two decades in the making. When fully implemented, NextGen will boost the safety, efficiency, and capacity of the city’s airports by moving from ground-based to satellite-based air traffic control, but piecemeal funding has slowed progress. Local elected officials, including Mayor de Blasio and, in particular, the city’s representatives in Congress should unite behind a forceful call for the federal government to fund NextGen and for the FAA to prioritize implementation in the New York area..
Improve the experience for visitors connecting from airports to the subways.
The AirTrain stations at Jamaica and at Howard Beach are the portal to New York City for millions of tourists, but the connection to the subway, particularly at Jamaica, leaves much to be desired. Likewise, for passengers arriving from JFK or Newark to Penn Station via the Long Island Rail Road or NJ Transit, there is almost no signage present to welcome visitors and guide them to their destinations. A lack of wayfinding signage and tourist information can leave a sour first impression of the city. Specifically, while the connection from the AirTrain to LIRR at Jamaica is clear and pleasant, the path to the E train at that station is not nearly what it should be for such a major tourist gateway. The subway station itself is uninviting and almost completely lacking in signage that would make tourists feel welcome and help them navigate their journey to Manhattan, Long Island City, or wherever else they are heading in the city. While the connection at the Howard Beach subway station is more appealing, better signage there is needed, too. At Penn Station, better signage is needed everywhere from the platforms, which offer little more than red exit signs, to the main corridors, which could benefit from maps, interactive displays, and wayfinding systems that guide visitors to the subways and nearby streets, as well as local hotels and attractions.
The MTA should make a series of investments to modernize the Jamaica and Howard Beach stations in ways that greatly improve the visitor experience. Governor Cuomo has announced a major new investment in rebuilding Jamaica Station, and this effort should include significant improvements to the AirTrain connection and the E train entrance. Given that these stations often represent the very first taste of the city’s subway system, the MTA should work with the Port Authority and NYC & Company to add new signage, LED displays, and other elements that give visitors a warm welcome to New York and help them navigate the rest of their trip. These agencies might take advantage of this major entry point into New 34 Center for an Urban Future York to provide a video loop promoting unique tourist destinations, or a screen advertising events happening on Broadway and other performing arts venues that week, or a poster alerting visitors that the surrounding community produced hip hop luminaries such as Run-DMC, Nicki Minaj, Q-Tip, and 50 Cent.
Make New York’s airports more welcoming to international travelers.
The number of international tourists has grown from 6.8 million people in 2000 to 12.7 million in 2016, an 87 percent increase. With international visitation outpacing the growth of domestic travel, it is increasingly important for New York to present a welcoming face to visitors from abroad. At the same time, tourism is growing rapidly in countries with a booming middle class, offering new opportunities for New York to capture more of the tourism market in countries like Brazil and China. To help welcome New York City's international visitors, more public signage and displays should be translated into other languages and more multilingual staff should be hired for customer service positions. To the Port Authority's credit, airport signage and wayfinding systems received a major overhaul ten years ago. But as technology improves and best practices evolve, it is time to plan a follow-up effort to streamline pathways through the airports, provide more interactive displays in multiple languages, and develop better guidance for reaching transit connections.
Improve the experience at U.S. Customs.
Our research found that too few Customs and Border Protection (CPB) agents and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners speak a language other than English. CPB and TSA should hire and train more staff that speak a broader array of languages, which would help improve the entry experience for New York’s millions of international travelers. In addition, wait times at customs and baggage claim are often egregiously long, often due to a lack of customs officers. Our research found that customs agents are often reassigned to other airports, seaports, and even the country’s borders, leading to shortages at New York’s airports. The Port Authority should also expand the number of multilingual customer service staff who are assigned to customs halls and security areas. CBP should increase staffing levels at JFK airport to accommodate the enormous growth in international visitation and reduce wait times to a reasonable level.
Offer free WiFi at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark.
Given more stringent security policies and record numbers of passengers, travelers are spending more time in airports than ever before. But JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airport struggle with seriously lacking wireless Internet service. JetBlue’s recently renovated Terminal 5 at JFK is the only one that offers free WiFi. Every other terminal is trapped in a 20th-century deal with the current vendor, Boingo, which provides only 30 minutes of free Internet service after watching an ad. At a time when international travelers need to arrive three hours early for long-haul flights, 30 minutes is totally insufficient. In order to compete with other global airports— and even many regional hubs—JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark need to sever this retrograde contract and install fast, free WiFi service in every terminal.
Explore opportunities to expand bikesharing, ferry service, and other alternative modes of transportation.
With streets and subways becoming ever more crowded for locals and tourists alike, New York City should embrace opportunities to advance alternative modes of transportation across all five boroughs. Traveling across New York by bicycle has become more popular with each passing year, in tandem with the expansion of bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure. Our research finds that tourist-oriented bike rental companies like Bike and Roll and bicycle tours of the city have become much more popular over the past decade, and CitiBike’s bike sharing network is becoming increasingly popular with out-of-towners. Recent expansions of ferry service on the East River have also been widely embraced, and help relieve congestion on the subways. Most of the ferry stops, including Wall Street-Pier 11, Dumbo, Williamsburg, Long Island City, and Astoria, serve neighborhoods that are popular with tourists and help encourage more cross-borough visitation. An expansion of East River ferry service to LaGuardia airport could provide a useful public transit link to hotels in these popular neighborhoods.
Invest in the subways for New Yorkers and tourists alike.
It’s not just New Yorkers who are frustrated by endless subway delays. Millions of tourists ride the subway every year, but our research shows that mounting subway problems may be tarnishing the city’s reputation and causing tourists to think twice about taking public transit. Investing in the subway system and improving service is essential for growing New York’s economy overall, and for sustaining tourism in particular. Without reliable subway service, tourists will be forced to resort to ride-hailing services, further worsening traffic, or may decide to avoid New York City in favor of more hassle-free destinations. New York State and the city should prioritize fully funding the subway rescue plan and act quickly to identify new sources of revenue for the system. One option is congestion pricing, which has been successful in cities from London to Singapore. Proposals in New York City show promise to raise at least part of the funds needed to make critical investments in the crumbling subway system.
Mitigate traffic congestion from tourist activities.
New York’s more than 60 million annual tourists have provided a major boost to jobs in scenic and sightseeing transportation, which have more than doubled since 2000. But this growth has also added to the city’s vehicular traffic woes, with consequences for tourismdependent neighborhoods across the city. Charter and tour buses have multiplied, particularly in touristheavy areas like Times Square and the South Street Seaport, and tourists have contributed to the sharp increase in ride-hailing vehicles on the streets. Tenth Avenue between Times Square and Penn Station has become an unofficial tour bus parking lot, with buses lining the streets at all hours. At the same time, slowmoving double-decker buses contribute to traffic problems, particularly in Manhattan. The Port Authority, the city Department of Transportation, the MTA, and NYC & Company should work together on transportation planning that is responsive to the city’s tourism boom. One priority should be more sensible solutions to the growing demand for tour bus services. Solutions may include adding new parking facilities as part of the Port Authority Bus Terminal renovation, distributing bus parking more widely to avoid disruptive concentrations, and reducing the frequency of double-decker buses at peak times.
Ensure that New York continues to be perceived as a safe place to visit.
If anything could derail the city’s decades-long surge in tourists, it would most likely involve rising concern about public safety. Indeed, reducing crime has been vital to the city’s tourist surge over the past 25 years. New York policymakers should continue to prioritize efforts to keep crime rates at their historically low levels.
Build and expand the tourism jobs pipeline.
With more than 291,000 tourism-related jobs and counting, the number of New Yorkers employed in tourism has increased every year for the past decade. But the city’s complex network of public and private workforce development organizations and programs could do much more to meet the surging demand for workers with tourism-ready skills. Workforce development organizations and programs across the city should significantly increase their focus on tourism jobs as a vital source of well-paying and accessible opportunities. One major bright spot is NYC & Company’s existing partnership with the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Department of Education, which supports youth workforce initiatives, but this program can be expanded. Meanwhile, there are many more opportunities to grow and expand the pipeline citywide.
Tourism-related employers say that strong customer service skills, coupled with a natural flexibility and a “can-do” attitude, are what it takes to succeed in the tourism business. These are good qualities for workers in any industry, but tourism stands out as an especially rich vein of opportunity; by 2024, the sector is projected to generate more accessible, well-paying jobs in growing occupations than any other. However, too few programs are putting an emphasis on these skills or collaborating with tourism employers to meet their emerging needs. Importantly, at a time when automation is threatening entry-level jobs across many industries, occupations that involve face-to-face communication and human interaction—like the customer service jobs in tourism—are among the least vulnerable to the forces of automation. A stronger tourism jobs pipeline can help the city evolve to meet these impending changes, while providing more employers with the workers they need to sustain and grow their businesses.
Make tourism a key industry partner in the city’s workforce development system.
Understanding the needs of employers is essential for designing successful workforce development and training programs. Yet there is no central agency or organization focused on gathering the industry intelligence that would allow more programs to connect with opportunities in the tourism industry. In an effort to direct the city’s workforce development ecosystem toward the needs of businesses, the city’s Department of Small Business Services has created an Industry Partnership focused on food service and hospitality—along with partnerships in five other growing industries that are central to the city’s economy. But that existing partnership is not structured to take advantage of the full scale of opportunities that tourism provides. It is focused largely on food service, has been slow to get off the ground, and has few or no relationships with nonprofit workforce development organizations that are already placing workers in the field. The city should refresh the food and hospitality Industry Partnership’s mandate by rebranding it as a Tourism Industry Partnership, and call on a wide variety of stakeholders—including NYC & Company; employers from retail, food service, accommodations, and other tourism-fueled industries; and independent organizations and intermediaries already 36 Center for an Urban Future working in this space—to inform the city’s workforce and education ecosystem about the needs of tourism employers and build strong relationships with tourism employers across a range of industries.
Tap New York’s multilingual population to support the tourism industry.
New York is both one of the world’s most multilingual cities and one where the tourist population is most diverse. As a result, multilingual New Yorkers make particularly strong candidates for careers in the tourism industry, but few efforts exist to tap this enormous citywide resource. From floor staff in retail shops and waitstaff at restaurants to customs officials at the airport and tour guides, the tourism industry is full of positions that can make use of workers with language skills. The city’s workforce development and education ecosystems, industry leaders, and NYC & Company should collaborate to develop career exploration programs that increase awareness of career opportunities in tourism and emphasize the value of speaking multiple languages. This will help ensure that the tourism pipeline fully leverages the skills of people from the city’s multiethnic communities.
Expand capacity building and training programs for businesses across the five boroughs to tap into the tourist market.
Workforce development organizations should build the capacity of managers in tourism-fueled businesses to create a work environment that rewards hard work with upward mobility. Because tourism is such an important source of good quality jobs in growing occupations, tourism-related businesses are an ideal laboratory for building collaborations between workforce development organizations and company management to create quality work environments. Everybody wins in such collaborations: businesses get higher-performing workers that stay in their jobs longer, workers get a path into the middle class, tourists get a better experience for their money, and the city’s economy benefits from better tourist experiences. Coordinating these strategies for worker preparation and training would be a key role for the new Tourism Industry Partnership.