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New York Wants Tourists To Return -- But Will They? - Cat Smith

MEGAN ZEREZ, HOST: Another blow to New York City’s nightlife has been a decline in tourism. Now, the city is trying to fix that. The mayor’s office announced a massive new ad campaign to lure back visitors. The campaign is called “New York City Reawakens,” and it will cost $30 million. It’s the most money the city has ever dropped on tourism ads. But will it be enough to bring visitors back? Cat Smith asks what it will take to revive tourism during the pandemic.

CAT SMITH, BYLINE: Grand Central Station is quiet during rush hour these days. It used to see wave after wave of commuters and tourists bustling through its cavernous halls. Businesses around the train station are suffering from the lack of traffic.

The Pershing Square cafe sits just across 42nd street. Eleazar Peleaz, the general manager, says things are starting to turn around, but reservations are still way down from where they should be.

ELEAZAR PELEAZ: We used to get 1,000 customers a day, now we getting 100, 200.

SMITH: 200 a day, at most?

PELEAZ: Yes, the most.

SMITH: The year before the pandemic, more than 66 million tourists visited New York City. But Covid shut down restaurants, theaters and hotels for months. Most people stopped flying. The number of visitors to the city plummeted by two-thirds. But the mayor hopes that the “New York City Reawakens” campaign, which launches this summer, will convince them to visit again. But Peleaz says the $30 million marketing push might not be enough for his industry.

PELEAZ: The city has to open more. More capacity for the business.

SMITH: It’s not just the restaurants: almost all of New York’s tourism-related industries are still at least partially shuttered. Ronn Torossian is the president and CEO of the firm 5W Public Relations. He says that the city simply isn’t ready to bring back tourists.

RONN TOROSSIAN: I think it’s too soon for an ad campaign to encourage tourism to New York when so much of New York is closed. Great advertising and great marketing campaigns are authentic and they’re real. OK? Very few true New Yorkers today believe that New York today is what it was before the pandemic.

SMITH: Over in Herald Square, Agit Das sells tickets for a sightseeing bus tour. American tourists are coming to visit New York, so he is doing *some* business right now. But it's the foreign tourists that he really misses.

AGIT DAS: Bad, very bad. Very few people come see us. They are not coming, international people. They’re coming from the United States, like Florida, Chicago, California.

SMITH: No international tourists?

DAS: No international tourists. Because flights are not coming to New York City.

SMITH: Das earns a commission on the bus passes he sells. He says his pay won’t bounce back unless international flights return. Looking around the unusually empty streets around Herald Square, the same could be said for the whole city of New York.

Cat Smith, Columbia Radio News.

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