Some N.Y. operators report sales have softened a bit in 2016

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Passengers on a Collette tour ride a ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

After several years of steady growth and healthy profits, New York tour operators were caught a bit off-guard this year by some softer-than-normal sales, so much so that theories about what caused the slump are wide-ranging.

This happened despite the city's recent report that it expects 2016 to set a record with 60.3 million visitors, a 3% increase over 2015, and mark its first time surpassing the 60 million visitor milestone.  

"At Real New York Tours we have definitely seen a slight dip in business in 2016," said Luke Miller, owner of Real New York Tours. "Nothing that raises too much concern, but for a city like New York that has seen an increase in tourism steadily over the years it is surprising."

Miller said clients have been asking about the general safety of the city due to the issues of homelessness and in the aftermath of the bombing in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in the fall, in which 31 people were injured. 

"The recent election, I think, has also left a bit of financial uncertainty among people living in the States," said Miller, who noted that prebookings for the company's holiday tours were down.

New York hotel operators have had to reduce room rates this year to fill expanding inventory. While occupancy rates through the third quarter remained steady at 85%, the average room rates fell 2.9% from a year earlier, to about $248 a night, according to STR.

Todd Lefkovic, founder and owner of Foods of New York Tours, said business is currently down 12% compared with last year. 

"It's complicated to know exactly why our numbers are down this year," he said, adding that, "Some of our predictions are: The world economy is not great, there are still a lot of people out of work, there is a lot of uncertainty during an election year and many people were thinking that New York would have the next terrorist attack after Brussels and Paris."

Lefkovic said that in addition to his business being soft, he noticed that numerous restaurants closed in July and August, rather than trying to see if they could make it through the busy holiday season. 

Despite some of the anecdotal observations about travel to New York experiencing something of a slump this year, NYC & Company, the city's tourism and marketing organization, said that it is only spending that is down slightly this year, which had been expected, due to factors including the strong dollar. 

"Spending per person may be slightly down, but overall spending will be up," Chris Heywood, senior vice president of global communications for NYC & Company, wrote in an email. 

He noted that NYC & Company forecasts that New York will welcome approximately 60 million visitors in 2016, up from 58.5 million visitors last year. 

Indeed, not everyone whose business relies on tourism to the city is experiencing a decline.

Collette reported a 5% increase in 2016 bookings for New York over 2015 and said that the tour operator's New York tours have consistently been strong revenue drivers for the company.

"The election and the state of the country may have something to do with predictions of New York being down, but for right now we continue to drive tours there every year," Collette said in a statement. "New York is just not a place that guests, especially those 65 years and older, want to be navigating themselves."

Both NY Media Boat and New York Tour1 said they too are not experiencing any slowdown in business.
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Danny King contributed to this report.

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