Monday, November 28, 2011

They come, they see ... they spend money

One of the biggest businesses in NYC is the city itself. This town is quite literally a magnet, snapping  tens of millions of people towards it each year. 

In these hard times, tourism has become one of the few growing sectors of the NYC economy.

And oh boy, do they come. This year the number of tourists flocking into our city will top 50 million for the first time. Yeah, that's a lot of people. That's the population of Australia and Canada combined plus a few million. That's basically the entire equivalent of France. As big as our city is and as huge as our population is, it's virtually impossible to conceive how many people come here each year just to visit.

Here are some of the stats, according to New York magazine:
  • Of the roughly 50 million visitors, roughly 10 million of them are from abroad and roughly 40 million of them are from the USA
  • The typical American visitors stays two days and spends less than $500 
  • The typical foreign visitors stays a week and spends almost $2000
  • Ten percent of all foreign tourists are British
  • Visitors from Scandinavian countries spend the most money here
  • The fastest growing demographic of foreign tourists are Brazilians
As economies around the world boom and the dollar remains weak, foreigners love to come to NYC and drop coin. It's cheaper for them here than at home (if you can believe that). And surprisingly, most of the American visitors to NYC actually live about 30 miles from town.

Obviously, we love tourists. They pour tons of money into our economy and keep up afloat. 

But is this a good thing? 

The obvious answer is yes. Mo' tourists, mo' money. But there's always a dark cloud.

The dark cloud is that tourism is replacing real economic growth. Mayor Bloomberg himself says that in this article, apparently without any worry about it. But I worry. NYC's economy must always been dynamic, growing, evolving. We don't want to become a Venice or Colonial Williamsburg, a once great city existing purely on its historical reputation or famous sites. We want to be a thriving city, a metropolis on the move.  

Also, as this article points out, tourism has boomed in the last several years thanks to a cheap dollar and low crime rates. But what if the dollar strengthens? What if crime goes up or there's another horrible terrorist attack? Then tourism will plunge and what will replace it then?

So when it comes to tourists, I say the more the merrier (and the more money, the much merrier). But let's also not turn into a city of navel gazers, thinking we're so great while the city crumbles about our ears. Let's create new businesses, attract new industries, and keep the city's economy dynamic. Then we'll really be something to see.

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