The Secret to New York City's New Tourism Success

I knew it. Maybe it was the lines of people trying to hail a cab in the bus lane, or the long lines in certain fast food restaurants in midtown (locals don't eat there -- we know better).

From the buses loaded with tourists on their way to hear "authentic" gospel music in Harlem, to lines at the South Street Seaport, it's clear that New York City is a growing tourist destination. In fact, last year, despite a decline of 2 million visitors from the previous year, it surpassed Orlando and Las Vegas as the number one tourism destination in the U.S.

How did this happen? In a word: marketing.

VIDEO: Take a tour of an abandoned subway tunnel in New York City.
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For our purposes, the distinction between marketing and advertising is great, because NYC has spent fewer advertising dollars than Vegas or central Florida. Instead, it has simply marketed better. Vegas has been hard-hit by the negative perception that company meetings and conventions were happening there during an economic downturn, and Central Florida was hit hard by the recession and the toll it has taken on American families and visitors from Europe. Nevertheless, you might argue that NYC, on paper, is a tougher sell.

New York has ongoing concerns about terrorism, has lost twice as many jobs as in the past two recessions, and is the nation's most expensive city. But in 1999 it created NYC and Company, a hybrid chamber/tourist bureau/ad agency that bills itself as the official marketing organization for the City of New York. And it has a billionaire mayor,Michael Bloomberg, who is clearly a talented businessman. New York has consistently made the moves necessary to increase the visibility, usability and attractiveness of the city.

In 2007, the city launched its first global advertising campaign -- but unlike Vegas with a budget of about $85 million, New York's campaign, valued at about $30 million, cost less than $5 million in cash as it was accomplished largely by barter, giving countries abroad advertising space in New York.

Last month, New York announced a partnership making American Airlines the official carrier of the city. For that distinction American Airlines gave up advertising dollars to the city, pledged additional dollars to promote its routes to NYC and pledged millions to upgrade the city's airports, JFK and LaGuardia.

New York's Bold Moves to Market Itself

The city's made bold moves in establishing business partnerships. It invested in developments like Hudson River Park, the area along the Hudson River from 59th Street to Battery Park. It created "cafe" areas in midtown by closing down streets and putting out permanent tables and chairs -- all further examples of how streamlining the process has worked for the city.

By contrast, central Florida's new campaign, "Awaken your Florida Side," has been called bland by some industry experts, who say it doesn't deliver any new or interesting information or imagery. In fact, there was a minor uproar when a stock image showing a man sailing his boat in open waters used in the campaign was discovered to not be Florida at all. Florida tourism now carries an apology on its home page.

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