NYC & Company helping to spread the wealth from tourism

A Fit Tours NYC sightseeing run through Central Park.
A Fit Tours NYC sightseeing run through Central Park.

Destinations around the world grappling with issues of overtourism and undertourism might want to look at a program New York launched four years ago that helps distribute tourism throughout its five boroughs.

NYC & Company, the city's marketing arm, launched Tourism Ready in 2015. The program teaches small businesses throughout the city to work with the travel industry. 

NYC & Company has long pondered how to grow the city's tourism industry "from a healthy and responsible perspective," said CEO Fred Dixon. That includes balancing the business seasonally and geographically. 

New York marked a tourism record in 2018, welcoming 65 million visitors. Still, Dixon contends that ensuring the city's future success depends on all businesses seeing opportunity "from this rising tide of tourism." 

"This will help with overtourism issues going forward, because you are spreading people around and also engaging more people directly in the business," he said. "The more people who see the benefit of tourism, the greater advocacy we have."

Tourism Ready was created with this in mind. NYC & Company realized that many small businesses lack the understanding of the travel industry they needed to grow. Program workshops teach businesses about the travel trade, pricing strategy and distribution channels. 

"If you're a small business, you might not even have a dedicated sales and marketing person," said Dixon, who added that established tourism companies also participate in Tourism Ready, sometimes as a way to train their staffs. "It's really been a tremendous boost in the arm of the knowledge base of the New York City travel industry, while bringing more people into the tent at the same time." 

An important aspect of Tourism Ready is that it meets the current demand for authentic, experiential travel. 

"It's these kinds of hyperlocal engagements that people are looking for," Dixon said. "If we're going to be successful as a destination in providing those experiences, we've got to teach people how to provide them."

He pointed to Fit Tours NYC, which offers running and yoga sightseeing tours in Central Park, as "a jewel of an idea." It was started by Michael Riordan, a personal trainer who didn't know much about the travel industry. 

"I thought, 'I'll build it, and people will flock,'" Riordan said. "It didn't really work out that way."

Tourism Ready, he said, "gave me an understanding of the lay of the land of the tourism industry and how it works."

Riordan took the course twice and said one of the biggest benefits he got was the confidence to go to networking events and be able to talk about "what it is that I do in a way that people understand."

Fit Tours NYC has more than doubled its business in each of the three years since joining the program.

Shelley Worrell, founder of CaribBeing, a Caribbean cultural organization, was offering walking tours of Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood, which she helped get designated the "Little Caribbean" of New York, as it is home to one of the largest Caribbean immigrant populations in the world. Her tours incorporated food, rum and culture. 

"We were really undercharging," she said. "One thing that the program really got us into was how to structure our tours, how to price them, how to message them and to cut up the tours and make itineraries based on people's interests," such as jerk tours, rum tours, etc. 

Beyond that, she said, Tourism Ready was instrumental in teaching her how to work with the travel industry "to reach a more diverse audience." Perhaps just as important to a small businesses is that Worrell said the program made her see the value in her product.

"We were in a class with the Whitney and CitiBike and the Brooklyn Museum, really large institutions," she said. "But the program really made us feel important and special and that we're a part of New York City." 

New York City Vacation Packages is one of many tour operators engaging with the companies in the Tourism Ready program. Vice president Joel Cohen said there are "so many venues that might not know how to crack into the leisure travel and tourism market. The program really teaches them the basics and more: How do you get into the leisure market? How do you find an FIT tour operator, and what do you need to do to work with them?"

He added: "These guys have really unique ideas. The [Tourism Ready] program shows them how to turn the idea into reality and a real product that the leisure market can sell."

Given the growing concern about overtourism worldwide, Dixon said he is surprised more destinations don't have similar programs, and he's happy to share best practices. 

"I think there is an opportunity to showcase this with other destinations and let them take a look at the playbook," he said.


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