NYC tourism: Suddenly, everything’s looking up

If the slowdown in New York City’s tourism industry looked like it was bottoming out last year, then the findings of a new report provide cause for optimism — both for long-suffering businesses and for the city itself.

According to the American Express Global Business Travel report, which measures a variety of factors affecting international travel, four out of the five categories where New York City failed to reach pre-recession levels have improved over the past year, including dining, shopping, meetings and events, and travel to the city’s best hotels.

These trends have allowed New York’s tourism industry, the second largest in the world behind Paris, to rebound and even pick up the pace a bit.

“I think the important thing we’re seeing here is that we are seeing a measurable lift, and a gain in business leisure,” Christopher Heywood, global head of corporate travel at American Express, said in a telephone interview.

This is good news for the city’s other tourism-dependent businesses like restaurants, hotels and Broadway theaters, all of which have struggled over the past five years to keep up with the fallout from the recession.

The New York City Tourism Marketing Corporation, which is an independent not-for-profit group financed by tax dollars, is cautiously optimistic about the report’s results.

“For the first time since the financial crisis, we saw international bookings beginning to show year-over-year growth for Q3,” Mary Johnson, spokeswoman for NYC & Company, which is in charge of marketing the city to tourists, said in a statement.

But despite the gains, we might still be in for a bumpy ride ahead.

Heywood points out that most of the recent gains have been fueled by domestic travelers, leaving the city’s international and corporate base stagnant.

“When you look at the international economy, you have a lot of countries and territories that are not so friendly right now,” Heywood said.

“If you look at the international travel figures in the past five years, there’s been a steady loss in arrivals. We do expect to see that pace of decline pick up.”

There is a silver lining on the horizon, however.

For every drop in international arrivals, New York City has seen a boost in domestic travel. The two numbers are roughly even, and despite the past five years’ slight downturn, New York City still is the No. 1 destination in the United States.

And heywood says it’s a steady climb for New York City right now, but cautioned that the time is ripe for any kind of correction, which could spell the end of this long-awaited recovery.

“If you think about the business we do with large corporations and small companies, these are groups that have gone through tough times and started looking for a reason to invest, but we’re nowhere near the recovery in this type of investment,” he said.

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