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New York City

Economy, not swine flu, sends chill thru New York City's tourism

May 24, 2009

The good news is that swine flu doesn't seem to be stopping the masses of visitors from flocking to New York City this unfolding tourist season.

The bad news is that the severe global downturn is expected to cause a 4% drop in tourist visits this summer.

"We do not think H1N1 will have any real impact on the number of visitors that will come in this summer," said Kimberly Spell, senior vice president at NYC & Company, the city's marketing and tourism organization. "Now, the economy - that's a different story."

Spell acknowledged "there was a great deal of panic" following the outbreak of swine flu here but, so far, only two student groups canceled trips.

With the summer season unofficially beginning this Memorial Day weekend, the outlook remains positive, she said.

Officials predict 12.15 million visitors will come to the city this summer, a 4% drop from 2008.

For the week ending May 16, hotel occupancy in the city was 80.6%, compared with 90.5% for the same week in 2008, records show.

The slackening hotel demand has led to a lowering in room rates, giving travelers who do venture to New York a break. According to the latest figures, the average room rate in the city was $218 in March, compared with $285 a year ago.

Kathleen Duffy, a spokeswoman for the 12 Marriott hotels in the city, said all of the properties are expected to be sold out, or nearly sold out, this weekend.

"We're very optimistic that we're going to have a good summer," said Duffy, pointing out that the hotels offer special packages to lure travelers. "We understand people are looking for value, so if it's a package that includes baseball tickets, or parking, or breakfast, or anything that will help them save a little bit while they're in the city, we're doing that."

Interviews with travel agents in California, Arizona and the United Kingdom revealed tourists are wary about spending money because of the economy.

"I haven't had anybody say they were canceling because of swine flu," said Ortha Splingaerd, a San Francisco-based travel agent.

Because of swine flu cases in California, she quipped, "it might be safer to leave than to stay."

Candice Sutterfield, 29, a Web developer from Texas, in New York this weekend with a group of high school students, said swine flu wasn't a factor.

"We were concerned that our flight would be canceled because of swine flu, but being from Texas we're more concerned about home," she said.

Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said businesses at the world's crossroads are experiencing a "softness."

"But it's not severe," he said. "There's certainly a sense of anxiety," about the summer tourist months, Tompkins conceded. "People are waiting to see how it goes."

Economy, not swine flu, sends chill thru New York City's tourism

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