NEW YORK - Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and tourism officials say they expect the sharp growth in the number of tourists to New York City to slow next year amid signs of a cooling national economy, but held that tourism remains robust and a driving force in the city's economy.
A record 39.4 million visitors are expected in the city next year, 1 million more than the number projected for this year, the officials said. It would be an increase of 2.6 percent, compared with the 4.7 percent increase expected this year and an 11 percent increase in 1999.
But the mayor and officials of NYC & Co., the city's convention and visitors bureau, said that the 2.6 percent increase was a "conservative forecast" that could be exceeded. And they said that projected spending by the nearly 40 million visitors expected next year - more than $17 billion - would mark a steady rise in visitors' spending and would represent a nearly 50 percent rise over the 1995 figure.
The blizzard of statistics was released recently, as the city's popular tourist destinations such as Times Square and the Rockefeller Center area were crowded with even more tourists in the holiday season.
While some New Yorkers grumble at the congested sidewalks and the tourist buses worsening already clogged Manhattan traffic, Tim Zagat, the restaurant and travel guide publisher who is chairman of NYC & Co., suggested that tourism's contributions to the city more than outweighed such congestion.
`277,000 city jobs'
"The visitor industry supports more than 277,000 city jobs, and it's clear that tourism means big business for New York and New Yorkers," he said.
Overall, the number of visitors to New York has risen more than 65 percent since 1991, from 23 million to more than 38 million expected this year, according to data from the visitors bureau. The increases have come in one big spurt in 1992, during the Dinkins administration, when there was a 22 percent rise, and - after two years of declines - virtually steady growth since 1995 during the Giuliani administration.
The bureau attributed the sharp rise in 1992 to a reviving national economy, an air fare war that lowered travel costs and the Democratic national convention, which was held in New York that year. The bureau said that the repeal of the city's hotel tax in 1994, at the start of the Giuliani administration, played a major role in subsequent increases in visitors over the next six years. Zagat said that the sharp declines in crime in recent years also contributed significantly to the city's renewed popularity as a tourist destination.
Officials said they expect that final figures for 2000 will show that the city drew 31.5 million Americans and 6.9 million visitors from other countries.
Foreign tourism strong
Cristyne Lategano-Nicholas, president of the visitors bureau, said she expected that even if the U.S. economy slowed and more Americans stayed home next year, foreign tourism to the city would remain strong. She said the economies of some European nations were stabilizing, and a softening dollar in a cooling American economy would mean lower travel costs for foreigners traveling in the United States.
The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp. has completed a study that indicates that out-of-towners make up more than half of the 1.4 million visitors a year to cultural and other tourist attractions in Harlem and elsewhere in Upper Manhattan.
At the same time, the study, by the firm Audience Research & Analysis, suggests that Upper Manhattan needs to be better promoted. It states that "one-third of the visitors elsewhere in Manhattan were not familiar with Upper Manhattan" and that this was "truer for domestic than international visitors."