Discover New York and Beyond's Kitt Garrett

By Danny King
Kitt GarrettWell on its way to a record-setting year in terms of tourism, New York was among the East Coast cities hit hard by Superstorm Sandy late last month. Many of the nearly 20,000 U.S. flights canceled by the storm were based out of the area's three major airports, while parts of lower Manhattan were shut down because of flooding and power outages. Kitt Garrett, who founded destination-management firm Discover New York and Beyond in 1993, spoke with Hotels Editor Danny King about Manhattan and what locals hope is a quick return to normalcy.

Q: How's business?

A
: The calls are still coming in. The news is so conflicting. I have a colleague in Atlantic City who's furious because of reports that the Boardwalk's totally destroyed, when in fact, the only part that was damaged was going to be demolished anyway.

Q: But what about New York?

A:
Well, I don't have a lot of clients going into the Rockaways and Staten Island. Last week was more challenging, but this week, everything is back up. Obviously, there are still challenges from New Jersey and Long Island, but Manhattan is fine. The locations below 39th Street that did not have power are now back up.

Q: Any particular part of New York's tourism industry that took the brunt of the storm?

A:
All of the mom-and-pop stores that have been run for generations along Mulberry Street in Little Italy and in Chinatown can certainly use people's support. And the larger-sized restaurants, some of them really got hit.

Q: What about the major tourist attractions?

A:
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island will probably remain closed through the end of the month. We're diverting clients who had private tours with us. But we can still provide immigration-related tours by being smart and flexible. There's the Lower East Side and the Tenement Museum. And you can get out to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the boats, you just can't step off the boat and go inside.

Q: Early November is one of New York's busiest times of year in terms of meetings and conventions. Have you experienced any reduction in business there?

A:
By the time the corporate clients come to us, it's more about destination-management and excursions -- exploring the city. And we personally don't have anything that's being canceled. [The storm] really was a one-week issue. And, as opposed to 9/11, a lot of people knew what to do. People have all chipped in, and we've all been up to date on the little things. For instance, if one restaurant didn't have power, we can certainly find another one quickly.

Q: How would you say the experience of doing business during the aftermath of 9/11 prepared you for something like Sandy?

A:
We probably think about backup plans more than we used to. There's always a contingency, i.e., "If this doesn't work, what's a viable option?" We all reach out to each other, and Facebook has been a part of that. But something like this reinforces the importance of using a destination-management company that's local and on the ground to make everything work seamlessly. For instance, I had someone call me who said they got a good rate on a room booked on the East Side the same night they had an event on the West Side, and I told them they got the good rate because it was the night the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was getting lit. We ended up saving them money rebooking them, because the transportation would've been a four-hour minimum. It's literally taking pieces of a puzzle and making them fit.

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 
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