Destinations

New York City gingerly gearing up for post-Sandy holiday tourist rush

Nov 21, 2012 12:35 am

Skift Take

The city will bounce back, as it always has, though short term effects will linger for a while.

— Rafat Ali

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The Big Apple’s tourism sector is gearing up for the holidays and trying to get out the message that all but a handful of attractions and hotels are open following Superstorm Sandy.

The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the New York Aquarium at Coney Island remain closed, along with a couple of Lower Manhattan hotels: the Best Western Seaport Inn Downtown, the Holiday Inn Express New York City on Wall Street, and the World Center Hotel. But the 9/11 Memorial park downtown is back to normal, as is nearly all subway service. Gas rationing ends in the city Friday.

The busy holiday season kicks off Thursday as planned with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The tree at Rockefeller Center is scheduled to be lit Nov. 28 and performances of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular run as scheduled through Dec. 30.

“We had a tragic incident but we are back except for the recovery in parts of the city that are more residential,” said George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism organization.

Neighborhoods that still have a long way to go in terms of cleanup and recovery are mostly in outlying sections of the city, in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn. The cruise ship Queen Mary 2, which homeports at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, will be making its Nov. 27 port call in Manhattan while cleanup continues in Brooklyn.

Still, effects of the storm are still being felt in some sectors. Theater attendance was nearly 6 percent lower last week than the same week a year ago, according to the Broadway League, which said 236,771 people attended shows the week ending Nov. 18, compared to 250,983 a year earlier. Gross sales for the week were $20.8 million, also a slight drop from a year ago of $22.9 million.

The Museum of Modern Art reported 26 percent fewer visitors — a drop of about 20,000 people — between Oct. 29 and Nov. 11, compared to the same period last year. The American Museum of Natural History said a dropoff in attendance immediately following the hurricane has stabilized, and the museum is expecting big crowds the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of its busiest days each year.

Hotel occupancy for the week ending Nov. 10 was also down slightly in New York City by about 1 percent compared to the same week the previous year, with rates flat, according to the latest figures from STR, which collects hotel industry data.

Scott Berman, a leisure industry analyst for PricewaterhouseCoopers, says those figures reflect a “relatively robust” market even though demand for New York hotel rooms “changed dramatically” for two weeks.

“You had displaced residents, stranded tourists, and demand from the infrastructure industry — power crews, insurance agents — filling hotels in the New York market,” he said.

Berman said the shutdown of New York’s airports for several days also had ripple effects. “The rest of the country was paralyzed for a week,” he said. “Every top 25 market tracked by STR had a significant revpar (revenue per available room) decline for the same day, same week.”

But he added that history has shown that disasters can sometimes be a prelude to redevelopment and resurgent tourism, as was seen in New Orleans following Katrina.

“Longer term outlooks in a post-disaster environment, and this goes for the New Jersey coast, Atlantic City and the New York metro area, is that it gives some owners a chance to find what’s broken and fix it,” he said. “Generally the hotel industry comes through stronger,”

Fertitta says the city expects to break tourism records this year despite the drop related to the storm. “We expect to hit about 52 million visitors, up from 50.9 million in 2011,” he said. “We expect half of that lost business to rebook before the end of the year.”

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