NEW YORK -- Mayor
Michael Bloomberg last week sharply criticized the Bush
administration for failing to appreciate the importance of tourism
to the U.S. economy and to America's long-term security.
failure to take remedial steps, he said, is one of "many reasons"
that international tourist arrivals in the U.S. dropped 17% between
2000 and 2006.
For one thing, he
said, tourists find customs and immigration personnel rude, which
"diminishes our competitive edge; that has to change at the federal
immigration staffers need "some direction and an administration
that makes it a high priority to fix this," Bloomberg said, adding
that it could be done in 12 months.
two-term mayor, recently left the Republican Party and is
frequently mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, though
he has steadfastly denied that he is interested in running in
questions from reporters, Bloomberg said he had talked to Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice about making it easier for prospective
visitors to get visas. "We forget how our country was built" by
immigrants, he said. "Washington just doesn't understand that we
compete globally" not just for tourists but for scientists and even
"We can't put our
heads in the sand, Bloomberg said. "Yes, we have to be secure, but
that doesn't mean we can't welcome people here."
The mayor said the
U.S. couldn't really be secure "if we close ourselves to the
Bloomberg made his
remarks during a news conference at which he rolled out a marketing
and advertising campaign for New York City. Called "Just Ask the
Locals," the campaign is designed to make visitors feel more
welcome in the Big Apple and to thank them for coming to
The media event,
which was jointly sponsored by American Airlines and NYC &
Company, the city's tourism marketing organization, played out
before an audience of about 150 reporters inside American's new
$1.3 billion terminal at New York's Kennedy Airport (see
related story, "American takes the wraps off spacious terminal at
Kennedy."). A third of the attendees were international
journalists flown in from around the world.
chairman of NYC & Company, pointed out that while the U.S. was
suffering losses in the international tourism arena, New York was
one of only two cities to report gains in international arrivals in
2006. He stressed the value of that business: International
travelers accounted for 18% of visitors but accounted for 45% of
visitor spending in the city, Tisch said.
And yet, the U.S.
makes it hard for people to get their visas and makes the arrival
experience so uncomfortable that prospective visitors worry more
about that entry than about crime or terrorism in the U.S., Tisch
said. To top that off, the U.S. nationally spends "virtually
nothing" to promote this country as a destination.
Tisch said the U.S.
needed elected officials who have "the will to compete for
spend hundreds of millions of dollars and make tourism a
cabinet-level job," he said.
While the attitudes
and actions of customs and immigration personnel are beyond his
purview, Bloomberg said New York would do what it could to take
care of its interests locally.
"We're crazy not to
do everything possible [to make visitors welcome]," he
The mayor noted
that Readers Digest last year named New York the world's most
courteous city, a description that flies in he face of impressions
created by late-night comedians. Unfortunately, he added, not
enough people know about these kinds of accolades.
To help remedy that
problem, NYC & Company has lined up a number of resident
celebrities who will appear in ads, give advice on places to see
and offer tips on visiting New York.
celebrities are actors Robert DeNiro and Julianne Moore; former New
York Giants running back Tiki Barber; actor and comedian Jimmy
Fallon; and celebrated artist Chuck Close. Each offers insight
based on personal experience. NYC & Company CEO George Fertitta
said the celebrities chose their own messages without
In one ad, DeNiro
is photographed on the streets of Tribeca, home to the Tribeca Film
Festival which he founded.
"The best way to
see downtown? Walk," advises DeNiro.
To kick off the
advertising component, American Airlines donated $4.5 million in
advertising space to line the corridors of its new terminal with
the celebrity ads through the end of this year.
American's chairman, president and CEO, said the carrier was
"proud" to support Bloomberg's goal of attracting 50 million
visitors to New York by 2015. The print ads will appear on 150 of
the city's bus shelters citywide and 200 street-pole
Maps of walking
tours suggested by the celebrities and cards highlighting their
insider tips on navigating the city will be distributed to visitors
at American's terminal and in hotels. Videos will be shown in the
city's 400 or so taxis.
advice can be heard by dialing (212) NEW YORK. Additional tips can
be read at www.nycvisit.com.
Also, as part of
the "Just Ask the Locals" launch, the city fielded a 50-person team
to distribute the celebrity walking-tour maps and tip sheets. They
also offered assistance and distributed lapel buttons highlighting
neighborhoods throughout the city's five boroughs.
black T-shirts, for two days they manned 20 areas that tourists
frequent in Manhattan. NYC & Company hopes to identify
volunteers who will perform a similar role in the
The "Just Ask the
Locals" project is visible to the visitor who has already arrived
in New York. By inviting international media, NYC & Company
aimed to get its message in front of prospective travelers,
The mayor also used
the press event as a platform, calling on New Yorkers to do their
part in stepping forward to welcome visitors and to thank them for
visiting. On the whole, though, Bloomberg said he was confident
that residents would do their part.
"We are not shy,"
he said. "Giving advice comes naturally to us."
When asked for his
tips for the international traveler, he said, "The most impressive
thing is to walk the streets. Don't limit yourself to
mid-Manhattan. There are fascinating neighborhoods all over, and
it's safe anywhere. Of course, there are the must-sees, but you
should see more than that."
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine
Godwin at [email protected].