America may have lost its innocence on September 11, but for New
York City, its cultural and financial heart, there is a far more prosaic
potential loss to be dealt with: its $17 billion tourism
In fact, NYC's reemergence over the past decade has come in part from a
booming tourist industry that has grown thanks to Mayor Giuliani's
aggressive clean-up of the city and its decreasing crime rate. But now,
the New York tourism industry faces its greatest challenge: convincing
people that it is safe to visit the Big Apple.
If unsuccessful, the effects on the city's economy will soon become
The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that the city stands to lose
around 11,900 jobs in the restaurant industry, and 8,000 theater jobs.
The hotel industry will lose another 4,500 jobs (capacity fell to 35%
percent in the week after the tragedy), and five Broadway shows have
Clearly, New York needs a massive injection of traveler confidence -
exactly the kind of job that public relations was made for (and which
helped resuscitate Egypt's tourism industry after terrorist attacks in
1997 - see sidebar). But this is a tough sell, given the volatile
political environment and the public's inclination to stay home.
Who's luring visitors
The job of spearheading the campaign to attract tourists falls to The
New York Convention and Visitors Bureau (NYC&Co), a body composed of
13,000 members including hotels, restaurants, attractions, and
NYC&Co 's first step was to establish a toll-free hotline so that
visitors and businesspeople could find out what was open and closed. The
group also changed the homepage of its website to provide updates on
what was happening in the city, and held emergency talks with volunteer
PR and advertising agencies in the wake of the attacks to work out a
"It's been a very delicate communications issue," admits Keith Yazmir,
spokesperson for NYC&Co. "Our first mission was to balance the images of
Ground Zero and the horrible act of terrorism with a message that showed
New York City was not destroyed and smoldering."
The difficulty is that no tourist organization can say with certainty
that the city is 100% safe. But they can publicize trips made by people
who have no intention of letting the terrorists put them off of visiting
the city. "We can't tell people that the city is safe. We have no
credibility in that area," says Yazmir. "But pitching stories of people
having a good time in the city is a way that we can show people that
Manhattan is safe." A story that was broadcast on CNN and Good Morning
America, and covered in The New York Times late last month followed 90
senior citizens from Rochester, MN who journeyed to the city to bring a
mug to Mayor Giuliani.
They were seen going to museums, Broadway shows, and hotels, and just
walking around the city.
Early on, Giuliani played a crucial part in helping bring tourism back
on track. NYC&Co worked closely with his office to have the mayor
deliver a message that would encourage people to visit the city. During
a press conference broadcast on all of the major networks, Giuliani
addressed the issue of raising the tourism industry from the ashes: "I
encourage people from all over the country who want to help. I have a
great way of helping; come here and spend money," he said. "Go to a
restaurant, a play - you might actually have a better chance of getting
tickets to The Producers now if you want to come here and see it. The
life of the city goes on."
Tourism equals patriotism
Patriotism is an integral element in the effort to revive the city's
tourist industry. "Coming to New York is not only an important economic
gesture, but an important gesture of solidarity for the country. It's
also an act of defiance," says Yazmir.
$40 million has been invested in the "I love New York" TV
campaign starring Robert DeNiro, Liza Minneli, and Regis Philbin to
engender those patriotic feelings.
"There is a strong sense of pride in New York right now that can be
leveraged," says Jennifer McGuire, account supervisor for Northlich
Public Relations and a former PR staffer at NYC&Co. "If consumers
believe they are doing their part by spending money in New York as the
mayor suggested, visiting New York could become a patriotic rallying
Building corporate alliances
With the airlines also hurting from a lack of leisure fliers, it's been
in their interests to help encourage passengers to fly to New York.
Delta Airlines is planning to run a contest to give away 10,000 free
tickets to the city, and is using a multi-pronged communications effort
to give away the tickets: In addition to sending tickets to local radio
stations, the airline has also partnered with Crown Plaza and
Intercontinental Hotels in New York City. Delta will also hold spot
drawings for free tickets on its website, and will have a contest that
will invite people to send in postcards from their hometowns, telling
why they want to go to New York. Delta has even been named the official
airline partner of NYC&Co, indicating that creating alliances is a prime
tactic for rebuilding the New York tourism industry.
Other groups have also pitched in. The American Association of Travel
Agents (AATA) has moved its annual meeting from Seville, Spain to New
York City. The Association of American Magazine publishers also moved
its annual meeting to New York.
As the top tourist attraction in the city, it is appropriate that
Broadway has been the most active in trying to attract people to the
city. The League of American Theaters and Producers (LATP) has formed a
campaign that includes print, radio, and television commercials
featuring the cast of every Broadway show singing New York, New York.
Broadway has also been rolling out its big-name actors in the media to
preach the gospel that New York is open for business.
Museums band together
Museums got together in the days after the attacks, and agreed to open
their doors for free the first weekend. Subsequently, individual venues
have worked hard to bring back their visitors. The Metropolitan Museum
of Art and the American Museum of Natural History have targeted media
outlets in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York to encourage people to
make the short trip into the city, as over half of the people who visit
New York museums come from those three states. The American Museum of
Natural History has been targeting two of its new exhibits to people
outside the city, heavily promoting its pearl and annual live butterfly
"This is an important mission," says Ann Canty, spokesperson for the
Museum of Natural History. Our purpose is to look at world culture, and
I think that's become more important than ever."
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has mounted free concerts and poetry
readings, reflecting its place at the core of New York cultural life.
"I've been on the phone constantly," says Harold Holzer, VP of
communications for the Met. "I never thought I'd see the day that I'd
actually be glad to respond through e-mail."
"Culture represents the complete opposite of what happened," says
"It's the best our city has to offer. People desperately want to
distract themselves right now, so I think these venues play an important
part in letting people know that it's okay to go out and enjoy
However, getting people to come to New York City in the immediate future
may be the easy part, say tourism insiders. NYC&Co has longer-term
worries on its mind, such as what will happen to the New York tourist
industry if the United States launches a military retaliation for the
September 11 attacks.
But for now, much like Broadway itself, success lies in revival.
HOW EGYPT GOT ITS TOURISTS BACK
58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians were killed in Luxor in November
1997, in a particularly brutal attack by the Al-Gamma extremist
It couldn't have come at a worse time - right before the peak winter
season, it had a fierce effect on the country's tourism industry. Just
577,000 people made the trip to Egypt during the following January and
February - down 60% from the same period the year before.
Like the current situation in New York, tourists stayed away because of
the fear of more attacks. Egyptian authorities knew that to resuscitate
their tourist industry they would have to show that the country was
Early in 1998, the Embrace Egypt initiative was formed by a group of
businesspeople keen to promote the improved security measures, aiming to
get Egypt back into the brochures of foreign tour operators. They hired
Edelman to communicate these changes in the key markets of the US, the
UK, Germany, and Italy. The agency introduced the following
- Compiled a Friends of Egypt database for dissemination of information
about security arrangements and the tourist industry - including tour
operators, travel agents, and government and business groups.
- Sent a high-profile delegation of international statesmen with
diplomatic, foreign affairs, and security expertise from the key markets
to provide an independent assessment of the security situation.
- Undertook a national trade and consumer media relations campaign in
each country. Included by-lined articles by members of the delegation,
media roundtables, interviews with Egyptian security personnel, and
journalist familiarization trips.
The first major UK tour charters returned to Egypt in May 1998. Of all
the tour operators who left Egypt following the Luxor incident, all
except one returned it to their brochures by the end of that year.