Tourism falls in New York City, but it becomes favorite U.S. destination

Visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street, above, helped make New York City the country's favorite tourist destination last year.
Visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street, above, helped make New York City the country's favorite tourist destination last year. (Photo By Henny Ray Abrams/associated Press)

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Associated Press
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The number of visitors to New York City fell last year for the first time since 2001, but declines in tourism elsewhere across the United States made it the most popular destination in the country for the first time in almost two decades, tourism officials said Monday.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) painted the 3.9 percent decline -- an estimated 45.3 million visitors -- as a victory, saying that amid the recession the city had anticipated losing as much as 10 percent of its tourists. The city expects to recoup most of the loss this year and remains on track to hit its long-standing goal of 50 million yearly visitors by 2012, the mayor said.

Other hot spots were hit harder, making New York America's No. 1 destination for the first time since 1990, the mayor said. For nearly two decades, that title was held by either Las Vegas or Orlando.

"We have made our city cleaner, safer and more exciting than ever," Bloomberg said at a news conference at a Brooklyn restaurant. "I do think we'll continue to see even more tourists on our streets as the economy improves, and I think that we'll continue to fare better than other cities."

Though many travelers stayed home simply because money was tight, the decline in international visitors could be attributed to swine flu fears and concerns over border security measures, Bloomberg said.

Foreign visitors -- traditionally the biggest spenders -- fell to 8.6 million in 2009, a drop of almost 10 percent from the year before. That echoed a milder national trend, with international visitors to the United States down 7 percent in the first 10 months of the year, compared with the same period the year before.

Still, the Statue of Liberty, which reopened its crown to tourists, reported a jump in the number of visitors. So did other New York City attractions. And the city's leisure and hospitality industry -- which provides one-tenth of the city's private-sector jobs -- actually grew in 2009.

Part of the reason the decline in visitors was modest was because the city's hotels offered deep discounts, with some dropping rates by as much as 40 percent, said Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

"The lodging industry really is using discounting to stimulate demand," he said, adding that the price drops have significantly boosted "the city's ability to maintain the level of tourism that it's had."

Though the final numbers aren't in, Hanson estimated that New York City hotels dropped their average daily rate last year by about 29 percent, to between $200 and $235. In a city where even mid-range hotels often have an initial investment of $500,000 per room, the discounting has come with a price.

Of the city's hotels, "more than half will not be able to meet their debt service obligations in total this year," Hanson said.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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