New York tourism feels effects of transit strike

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NEW YORK -- As this citys first transit strike in 25 years hit last week, New York hotels made up for what they lost in cancellations with corporate blocks of bookings for commuters who stayed in the city.

But restaurants and retailers were not so fortunate.

When youre on the street ... you may not feel the power of the strike, but just look in the restaurants, Cristyne Nicholas, president and CEO of NYC & Co., the citys tourism marketing association, told TravelWeekly.com. Theyre half-full. You can see as you walk by. The retail establishments are empty.

It was unclear last week how long the transit strike would last -- but according to several tourism-related executives, damage to some businesses has already been done.

Devastating effects

The effect on restaurants was severe, according to Chuck Hunt, executive vice president of the New York office of the New York State Restaurant Association.  Restaurants are lacking customers, employees and deliveries, he said.

Its devastating, particularly at this time of year when restaurants are very busy. Many have ordered food that they may have to discard after several days.

According to Joseph Spinnato, president of the Hotel Association of New York City, the strikes effect on hotels was blunted because the guests were already in the city. And with guests staying closer to the hotels than usual, hotel restaurants also fared well. Our main concern is the week between Christmas and New Years, Spinnato said. Its one of the heaviest weeks for hotels.

Between Dec. 15 and 28 the city normally experiences a shift from long-haul travelers to day-trippers, Nicholas said.

This year, however, theyre staying home because they rely on the commuter lines.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated that the city would lose $400 million in economic activity the first day of the strike and $300 million a day each subsequent weekday. If the strike were to be extended, Spinnato said, Those who want to come are going to come. But will it have a chilling effect on some people? Probably yes.

The New York transit strike might have derailed a few travelers who found it difficult to get around the city without its subway system -- but it didnt stop one 20-year veteran employee at the InterContinental Barclay in Midtown Manhattan, who came in as usual from his home in the Poconos in northeastern Pennsylvania.

I said, How do you do that? recalled Leland Lewis, the hotels general manager. He said he got up at 2 a.m. to catch a bus.

Transit workers who operate the citys trains and buses had originally threatened to strike earlier this month, which spurred many hotels to put contingency plans in place. Those plans apparently paid off when the workers actually struck in the early hours of Dec. 20.

Hotels prepared for a strike

For instance, Marriott International has about 2,000 employees in 11 hotels in New York. Practically all of the employees on the morning shift showed up for work, said Kathleen Duffy, director of public relations for Marriotts New York hotels.

Even if there werent a strike, we would normally see a slight dip in business toward [Christmas Day], she said.

Some hotel operations have been impacted. For instance, passenger cars carrying less than four people are not permitted in the city during weekday morning rush hours during the strike. Consequently, empty hotel vans transporting guest to the airports had difficulty returning to the city. Deliveries were stymied, as well.

Nevertheless, hotels believed they got through the first days of the strike relatively well.

People are ... more in the know of what to expect, said InterContinentals Lewis.

To contact the reporters who wrote this article, send e-mail to David Cogswell at [email protected] or Michael Milligan at [email protected].

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