New York’s image, outside of New York, is largely a function of its media depictions. When NYC & Company opened its Shanghai office in 2007, Fertitta gave a speech about the importance of tourism to a group of Chinese reporters—only to be asked where exactly is the shop where Carrie buys shoes. But for all the glamour our high-profile image can bring, it also has a downside. New York is always one Central Park strangler or would-be terrorist bomber away from a tourism debacle. NYC & Company’s Communications department is essentially a rapid-response message machine devoted to getting “good” New York stories covered and “bad” ones quashed. (The company’s chief communications officer, Kimberly Spell, ran war rooms for John Edwards’s successful Senate campaign and for John Kerry in 2004.) After the Times Square pipe bomb didn’t go off, the company’s eighteen international offices were pumping out the “business as usual” message within hours. When the Daily News ran a widely picked-up story that Hotel Le Bleu had gouged tourists during Hurricane Irene, NYC & Company launched its own investigation, threatened to oust Le Bleu from its membership roster, got it to return the money, and arranged for coverage of the apology. On April 14, 2010, when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, grounding flights across the world and wreaking havoc at JFK, NYC & Company immediately began pressuring city hotels to cut rates by 15 percent for stranded travelers. Thirty or so agreed. By April 16, the list of participants was up on a new web portal thrown together overnight. On the 18th, NYC & Company officials were on CNN Europe describing the city “opening up [its] arms, frankly, to offer unprecedented discounts.” The target of all this high-octane PR wasn’t the stranded travelers, of course. It was whoever was considering a future trip to New York.
While New York’s top tourist attractions are largely what you think they are—the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Macy’s—there are some surprising differences in the ways tourists from various places spend their time and money. In 2010, the city played host to 39 million domestic tourists, compared with 9.7 million international travelers, and behaviorally, the two groups couldn’t be more different. Americans, the majority of whom pour into the city through the East Coast “Amtrak corridor,” stay an average of 2.7 nights and spend an average of $432 while they’re here. The internationals, by comparison, stay 7.3 days and spend an average of $1,700. “The international visitor is very intrepid,” says Jane Reiss, NYC & Company’s chief marketing officer. “They will come to JFK and immediately go to Harlem because they want to go to the Lenox Lounge. They are very comfortable with public transportation, because they’re mainly from urban environments. Domestic travelers are not like this.” The stereotype we have in our heads—the lost guy with a map—is much more likely to hail from Indiana than from India.
Among travelers from the top foreign markets, Australians are the most adventurous. They are the most likely to attend a sporting event, go dancing, shop, buy tickets to a concert or a play—anything, really. The French are the likeliest to attend an art gallery or a museum. The British, Irish, and Arab Middle Easterners are the least interested in art. Brazilians are emphatically anti–guided tours. The Japanese are seriously into Harlem, crowding gospel brunches and church tours (it is an open secret among New York’s jazz community that our jazz clubs are, at this point, all but subsidized by older Japanese men). The Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and the Dutch are the wealthiest, with 18 percent of the arrivals earning more than $200,000. Indians are the thriftiest, in a sense—because they often stay with friends or relatives and avoid hotels, they spend only $88 a person a day. But they also tend to stay longer than other groups, spending $1,000 per trip. The “Russian oligarch” stereotype, statistically speaking, is fiction.
Our visiting compatriots, meanwhile, have their own quirks. Their behavior patterns fall into two main categories: day-trippers, who tend to come from relatively nearby and get in and out quickly for a specific purpose, and overnighters, who swarm in from farther away and stay longer. While just about every day-tripper who comes to New York shops here, guests from D.C. are almost twice as likely as the average tourist to name that as their main reason to visit. Among overnighters, Angelenos do the most shopping, Miamians are the most inclined to hit an art gallery, and Bostonians tend to favor our nightclubs.
To capitalize on those and other differences, NYC & Company has launched niche-marketing campaigns for different places. While the efforts all share the upscale New York brand identity, they are tailored in unique ways. Asian ads focus on our main icons to entice first-time visitors. European markets get bombarded with messages meant to encourage repeat visits and a “live like a local” experience. In Italy and Germany, NYC & Company has been selling the notion of the city’s “energy” and “vibrancy,” as opposed to any specific sites. It’s less Broadway and more Bedford Avenue—a place where you go to be cool. In the domestic market, the sales pitch stays largely the same: The ads for New York that appear in Texas are the same as those running in Connecticut. Instead, the city has been targeting specific demographic groups within the U.S., actively pandering, for example, to families with children. Amid the downturn of 2008, “we realized people weren’t traveling to Disney World,” says Reiss, “and we thought, How do we get the families to come here?” (The solution involved things like declaring Smurfs Week in the city.) NYC & Company is also pushing, perhaps for the first time in city history, all five boroughs—“five cities in one,” as the ad copy puts it. The strategy is to increase tourist flow to the formerly underpromoted areas, and increase repeat visitation—to create the sense that if you’ve already been to New York but haven’t ventured to Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx, you haven’t really been here. “Staten Island is still a bit of a challenge,” Reiss admits.