NYC tourism up, but growth is slower

December 29, 2008 4:43:20 PM PST
A record number of people visited New York City this year, but the once-rapid growth in the city's tourism industry has slowed amid a worldwide economic downturn and city officials are bracing for even more bad news next year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday that an estimated 47 million people visited the city in 2008 - a record high - beating last year by 1 million visitors. And those tourists generated $30 billion in spending, setting another record over last year's $28.9 billion.

But the 2 percent increase is smaller than the jumps seen in previous years. Last year, the total visitor number was 46 million, up nearly 5 percent from 44 million in 2006. And that followed a growth of 3 percent from 2005 and nearly 7 percent the year before that.

"We all recognize that trees don't grow to the sky forever and that 2009 is going to be a tougher year in every sector in this city," said Robert Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development.

"But the tourism sector will continue to grow in the long term," he added.

One in nine workers in New York City are employed in the hospitality industry, which is one of the city's chief economic engines. Those include jobs in hotels, restaurants, museums and theaters.

Until recently, the local economy has enjoyed a boost from international visitors taking advantage of the falling dollar.

Last year and this year, international tourists contributed a disproportionate amount of the money spent by visitors because they tend to stay longer and spend more.

The city said visitors from abroad accounted for the entire increase in total visitors this year - a million more international tourists came to the city in 2008, a rise of 11 percent. A total of 9.8 million of the 47 million visitors were international.

But that growth is slowing as well - last year, the number of international visitors jumped by 20 percent from 2006.

Bloomberg predicted that the city's tourism numbers would start to suffer more significantly immediately after the holidays, starting with hotel occupancy rates, which have already fallen slightly this year.

A report this month by the state comptroller predicted that tourism would decline in 2009. And for the first time in years, the mayor said he could not promise next year would set another record in the number of visitors.

"We're going to have some very tough times ... people are starting to get to the point where the bad news is going to come and come at an ever growing rate, I think starting very quickly."

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