NYC tourism soars to record high of nearly 60 million in 2015

The Big Apple drew a record high of tourists in 2015 for the sixth straight year, according to NYC & Company.

The city’s official tourism arm points to a confluence of major openings — such as the One World Observatory — and the growing popularity of “traveling like a local” alongside increased promotions of the outer boroughs as primary causes for the boost to 58.3 million visitors last year.

“It was a critical mass of new attractions opening up around the city,” said Christopher Heywood, a spokesman for NYC & Co. “Whether it was new hotels, new restaurants, new major attractions — last year you had more of them.”

Last year, there were 46 million visitors from the U.S., which Heywood attributed in part to a stronger economy and lower gas prices, and 12.3 million international visitors, with most coming from the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and China. In 2014, there were 44.5 million domestic and 12 million international visitors. 

Heywood said it’s difficult to precisely track tourism down to the neighborhood, but lower Manhattan and Queens are increasingly popular draws. Lonely Planet named Queens as the No. 1 destination in the U.S. for 2015.

“New York is evolving and the centers of cool seem to shift,” Heywood said. “In Queens especially, there is more awareness of the wealth of opportunities you have there. You always had the U.S. Open, which is a draw, but I think people are discovering the multiethnic enclaves of the borough. It’s become an affordable foodie haven.”

And travelers, he said, are becoming more adept at finding the “coolest” places to go.

“There’s a trend in travel where people really are looking for that ‘live like a local’ experience,” he said. “They’re looking to tap into that authentic experience and have the bragging rights.”

There are over 100 hotels in Brooklyn alone, said Carlo Scissura, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

“You’re really seeing trends that Brooklyn is its own destination,” he said. “Many years ago, they’d walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and turn around. Now they’re venturing into the neighborhoods. 

“The savvy tourist who comes to New York doesn’t want to stay in midtown or Times Square,” Scissura added. “They want to be in an interesting part of Brooklyn.”

Similarly, Queens has seen a major increase in hotels. There are now 26 hotels in Long Island City said Rob MacKay, director of the Queens Tourism Council. That’s up from eight in 2008. 

“I keep thinking the market will saturate and it doesn’t,” MacKay said. “We’re famous for ethnic restaurants, we’re still doing very well around foodie tourists. The Queens Zoo just broke a record for attendance in a year. There’s nothing like Manhattan, but we’re seeing a huge tourism-related bump.”

Last year, NYC & Co. showcased a dozen neighborhoods, including Harlem, the South Bronx, Coney Island and Prospect Heights. 

And focusing on new developments, like The New York Wheel in Staten Island, continue to draw people in, Heywood said.

(With Jason Shaltiel)

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