Although Times Square still physically exists—a live camera even shows a costumed Batman posing for photos—without its usual cacophony of life, the tourist destination, like the rest of New York City, is not itself.
Now, months after the peak of the Covid-19 crisis in March and April, New Yorkers are starting to inch outside of their apartments, and finding a city without the droves of international tourists filling the sidewalks outside of 30 Rock, Radio City Music Hall and Katz’s Delicatessen. And the city’s roadmap for the return of its tourism industry hinges on encouraging further exploration by its locals.
“We’re not in a position of talking to visitors right now; we’re talking to locals more than ever before,” said Nancy Mammana, CMO of NYC & Company, the private firm that serves as the city’s destination marketing organization. “We’re hoping we can get folks to rediscover New York while there aren’t tourists. It’s theirs to explore.”
It’s a big change from 2019, when nearly 66 million visitors visited the city’s five boroughs—the 10th consecutive year of tourism growth—generating $7 billion in local tax revenue. That has dropped precipitously, with demand down 50% in the hotel sector and more than 30,000 jobs lost in that sector alone.
Because of the unpredictability of the Covid-19 pandemic, the roadmap will operate in stages, similar to the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide phased reopening plan. The first was Rise, which already ended, emphasizing education through content largely from NYC & Company’s own website. During the depths of the pandemic, it encouraged New Yorkers to experience each borough through famous movies and TV shows, like Tom’s Restaurant in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, which served as the exterior of George and Jerry’s hangout in Seinfield. The website was also home to virtual tours of attractions such as Central Park, the Bronx Zoo and Grand Central Terminal.
The city is now in its Renew stage, aimed at “inspiring New Yorkers and those within a short drive” to explore safely. NYC & Company is already working with local businesses and restaurants to create daily itineraries for featured neighborhoods.
Slated for the end of the summer and the fall is the Recover stage, which will see the city launch a “vibrancy” campaign, with an emphasis on encouraging confidence in travel. By the fourth business quarter of this year, Mammana hopes to broaden the scope of the campaign to drive-to destinations, “if everything goes well.”
It’ll also be rolling out a program akin to the city’s famed Restaurant Week, albeit without prix-fixe menus. Instead, restaurants will be able to offer their own discounts or specials, and will be promoted by NYC & Company. Whether winter’s Restaurant Week will take place is still undetermined.
“It didn’t feel like it made sense to do it the way it always has been, given the state of the industry,” Mammana said. “We wanted to go with a program that was effective but also allowed for a little bit of looser restrictions.”
For New Yorkers sick of their apartments after months of social distancing, NYC & Company will be working alongside its hotel partners to encourage staycations across its social channels. The city will also be asking well-known New Yorkers to become ambassadors for their favorite digs, similar to a Postmates campaign in April.
Each facet of the recovery is wrapped up in one overarching campaign titled “All In NYC”—a clever pun as the attractions are local and the campaign aimed at New Yorkers, who are known for rising above adversity. The campaign was created, pro bono, by the New York-based creative agency Aruliden and will largely run on digital and social channels. NYC & Company is currently working to secure corporate partnerships to expand its budget.
“Obviously, Broadway is a crown jewel, but beyond Broadway, there’s so much happening at the neighborhood level,” Mammana said. “We have a waterfront, we have parks and beaches. I don’t know how many New Yorkers know that, and it’s our job to promote it.”