It’s easy to bemoan tourists.
The crowds that descend on Manhattan year-round, who walk too slowly in front of the holiday windows — who think Times Square is just divine.
This year, the crowds are thicker than ever: more than 60 million visitors will have come to NYC by year’s end, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and NYC & Company announced Monday.
The city officials and the quasi-public agency tasked with the city’s marketing efforts celebrated that number and pointed to a sizeable figure of a different kind: $5.7 billion, the amount of state and city tax money generated by tourists in 2015. That includes sales, business, and hotel property taxes, among others. Without that revenue, city households would have had to pay $2,000 in additional taxes to make up the difference, according to city figures.
What tourism does for the city
Maybe the money smooths over some of our differences. Or maybe it's the fact that tourism can be seen as a marker of the city’s health.
The “I Love NY” campaign of the 1970s was credited with helping to change NYC’s image from the fiscal crisis era.
More recently, tourism dipped during two dark periods in NYC history. The number of visitors at first dropped after 9/11, down a flat 1 million visitors each for two years since records were first established in 2000. But — matching the city’s relatively quick bounce back — people soon returned in record setting numbers, partially due to what NYC & Company senior vice president for communications Christopher Heywood calls “patriotic tourism.”
Tourism numbers also dropped some 1.5 million in 2009 during the aftermath of the financial crisis. Heywood says that afterwards, tourism rebounded and then some due to beefed up marketing campaigns with more funding, plus the increasing “appeal of New York,” related to public safety and interest in boroughs beyond Manhattan.
That growth has continued for seven years, through changing patterns of visitation and worldwide threats of terrorism since 9/11. In their increased numbers, tourists mimic the New York attitude of not changing normal life patterns no matter the threat.
And just as New York has grown more diverse, so have its visitors. Chinese and Brazilian nationals now rank second and third in proportion of visitors, pulling ahead of France, Australia and Germany (travelers from England still rank first).
New Yorkers among us, at least for a few days
Beyond the economic incentive, the Tourists Are Us at least for their brief visits, despite their strange love for “exciting” Times Square, as tourist Hope Geisendorff said Monday afternoon.
Visiting from Texas, Geisendorff, 44, said she found New Yorkers surprisingly pleasant, contrary to the “rude” stereotype.
She and her sisters were in town for vacation and hadn’t been out of Manhattan. They asked whether “Chelsea” or “SoHo” were boroughs.
Well, no one’s perfect.
The sisters and other tourists questioned Monday afternoon detailed their plans to fill New York’s coffers by going shopping and frequenting the theaters, museums, and attractions that employ many of us. (Not to mention the time they spend using sightseeing buses, taxis and Ubers to get from place to place, transportation options the likes of which NYC & Company says experienced particular increases between 2014 and 2015.)
Erica Avizinybe, 37, had been doing all of the above for days, plus she made a trip to Madison Square Garden to watch Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas, a fellow Lithuanian.
She said she’d been down to DUMBO, up to the Museum of Natural History. She walked along Wall Street and around Herald Square.
“Actually, we are not sure we saw many New Yorkers here," she said. Seeing tourists everywhere: the first step to becoming a New Yorker herself.