Laying the Groundwork for Tourism Recovery in Urban Centers

by Lauren Duke, IEDC Fellow

The Center for an Urban Future hosted a webinar titled “Laying the Groundwork for Tourism Recovery in NYC” on Wednesday, September 9, in which representatives from New York City and international urban centers discussed tourism recovery efforts during and after the pandemic. This webinar featured two panels, one which focused on efforts from big cities around the world, and one which addressed specific actions New York city could take to combat the economic crises in the tourism industry.

At the height of shelter in place orders, cities implemented activities that regional participants could engage in from home. In the United Kingdom, for example, London and Partners created “Virtually London,” where Londoners and UK residents could attend virtual museum tours, cooking demonstrations, and more from their homes. New York City adopted a similar approach, hosting virtual field trips in some of their museums. 

When evaluating tourism recovery efforts in major cities, a common theme was the increase of marketing efforts. Because many major cities saw a flight of residents to more suburban spaces, marketing efforts targeted residents, urging them to live as a tourist within their own home. As reopening began, marketing efforts became increasingly specific to residents of the area, rather than traditional marketing of popular attractions. Cities prioritized awareness of socially distanced and outdoor events that would encourage locals to travel to a new part of a city and engage in new experiences. 

In the United States, many cities are still facing obstacles to restoring their tourism industry. In San Francisco, for instance, hotels are still not open for leisure guests. They have targeted visitors within a day’s drive to come explore the region. The state of California is also encouraging collaboration between urban centers; cities in northern California are marketing experiences of southern California and vise versa. 

While these efforts have shown some success throughout the United States, the lack of international travel has impacted many large cities. New York is an outbound tourist destination, as their major airports previously offered direct flights both into and out of the country. In San Francisco, 64 percent of total tourism spending was from international travelers. Although it is impossible to close this gap with regional and local spending in the tourism sector, the aforementioned efforts have aided in introducing more spending in these cities by regional locals. 

When asked about the next steps in reviving the tourism industry, panelists agreed that restoring confidence in the safety of cities and maintaining a global reputation as a tourist destination is imperative. New York City Council member Keith Powers, who represents Manhattan's 14th district, emphasized the need for city and state leaders to use public resources, such as mass transit, in order to encourage locals to feel safe traveling within their communities. 

In the US, both large and small cities can adopt similar efforts to revive their tourism industries. By capitalizing on regional residents, communities can restore spending in the tourism sector and encourage residents to engage in events once again. 


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