Chinese visitors boost tourism to record high


The Times Square masses of humanity, sidewalk-blocking phalanxes and museum-entrance lines added up to an unprecedented 56.4 million visitors to the city in 2014, officials said Monday.

New York City was the place to be in 2014, when 56.4 million visitors flocked to the Big Apple, the de Blasio administration announced Monday. It was a record high that probably won’t last: Officials said they expect even more tourists this year.

“New York City has been increasing its offerings of attractions and hotels more than ever, so the fact that visitor numbers reached an all-time high came as no surprise,” said Fred Dixon, the chief executive of NYC & Company, the city’s official tourism arm.

New York’s tourist numbers jumped 4% from 2013 and included 44.2 million domestic and 12.2 million international travelers. According to NYC & Company, they created $61.3 billion in economic impact and sustained 359,000 tourism-related jobs paying $21 billion in wages.

The city’s hotel industry responded to this surge by pushing its room count up to 102,000, and despite competition from home-sharing service Airbnb, which accounts for about 5% of the market here, the hotel occupancy rate rose half a point to 90%. The average room rate increased by $4, to $295. New York has the most active hotel-development pipeline in the country, with 60 more properties to open this year, according to city officials.

But will the rising dollar hurt tourism by making New York more expensive for international visitors?

“No,” said Mr. Dixon.

He used what he calls “a shoe analogy” to explain. “People will still travel and use our services here even if they spend less on goods,” said Mr. Dixon. “Let’s say a tourist was planning on buying four pairs of shoes with [the weak dollar]. Now they might buy three pairs [with the strong dollar].”

Even if the rising dollar depresses the buying power of some foreign currencies, city tourism officials remain optimistic about meeting their goal of $70 billion in economic activity this year. They’re looking to tap into the Chinese tourist market, which has been increasing over the years and surpassed 740,000 visitors in 2014.

Britain, Canada and Brazil are the top three sources of international tourists, but China could move up from fourth place in the coming years. A recent change in immigration law extends visas for citizens of China to 10 years from just one.

While declining to share specific sales numbers, David Chien, head of global integrated media at Gray Line New York, said his tour company saw a “healthy growth in sales numbers last year.”

In 2012, the company added Mandarin to the recordings played on its double-decker buses roaming the city. The company identified German, Italian and Spanish as the languages in most demand, but Mr. Chien said Mandarin has emerged as a high-demand language as well.

“If our Chinese tourist base continues to grow, then you’ll be seeing a lot of cross-promotions in Chinese,” said Mr. Chien.

Sightseeing companies aren’t the only ones tapping into the growing Chinese tourist market. So have hotels. Some have been turning to Boston-based Attract China, which advises businesses on how to market to Chinese consumers. In recent years, the company has seen a huge increase in demand for its services.

“Hotels have realized that they’re going to be losers if they decide to be reactive rather than proactive about marketing to Chinese tourists,” said Evan Saunders, CEO of Attract China, which was founded in 2011.

According to Mr. Saunders, New York is the No. 1 U.S. destination for Chinese tourists, so he advises hospitality groups to start their marketing efforts in China before tourists even leave the country.

Whether it is offering Chinese meals or teaching employees to speak basic Mandarin phrases like “hello” and “thank you,” Mr. Saunders said, an increasing number of hotels are responding to Chinese tourists’ needs.

“The fact that we did so good in 2014 speaks to the fact that there will be continued investment in New York. The proof is in the pudding,” said Mr. Dixon.


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