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New York draws a record 65m tourists, many of them Chinese

New York

US President Donald Trump may have set off a trade war with China. But it isn't hurting one key industry in his hometown.

The number of Chinese visitors to New York City continued its steady rise last year, according to the latest tourism statistics.

The city's tourism-marketing agency planned to announce that the number of visitors to the city rose to a record high of 65.2 million in 2018, the ninth consecutive annual increase.

Most of the gain came from visitors from the United States, but the number of tourists from China rose slightly to 1.1 million, up from 1.04 million, despite worries that the trade battle would curb travel between the countries.

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"From what we see so far, we feel like business with China will remain strong," said Fred Dixon, the chief executive of NYC & Company, the tourism agency.

China is the second-leading source of foreign tourists to the city, ahead of Canada (one million), and it is not far behind Britain (1.24 million), according to the agency's data.

"We embrace diversity and are welcoming to all," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "And the more than 65 million visitors to our city were able to experience that firsthand."

Mr Dixon said the total number of visitors rose by 2.4 million, or about 3.8 per cent, last year. And he said he expected another increase in 2019, to at least 67 million visitors, driven in part by the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the WorldPride celebration planned for late June, which is expected to attract a surge of visitors.

He said he also expected a boost from a new marketing partnership the agency has entered into with Mastercard, which is replacing American Express as the preferred payment system of NYC & Company. Mr Dixon said it was the biggest corporate partnership the agency had ever had.

Mastercard is paying an undisclosed sponsorship fee to the agency, whose budget this year is about US$39 million. The city provides US$21 million annually to the agency.

Cheryl Guerin, an executive vice-president of Mastercard, said the company would use its marketing campaign to promote special offers in the city, such as dinners cooked by celebrated chefs like Marcus Samuelsson in iconic spots like Carnegie Hall or the baseball diamond in Yankee Stadium. The company's two billion cardholders also will get early access to annual events in the city, including Restaurant Week and Broadway Week, she said.

"We do have other tourism partnerships with other cities but this will be one of the biggest ones," Ms Guerin said.

Mr Dixon said he expected the arrangement to help drive "more and more visitation to the winter periods", when travel to the city is the slowest. He said NYC & Company would promote the first few months of the year as "the optimal time to come to New York for value".

Mastercard publishes an annual list of the cities that are most popular with tourists; New York is ranked sixth, behind Bangkok, London, Paris, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Singapore. Among US cities, New York ranks second only to Orlando, Florida, in the number of visitors it draws. Orlando claims to attract more than 70 million visitors a year.

But Mr Dixon said those are primarily domestic visitors who do not spend as much as foreign tourists - though anyone who has taken a family to Disney World lately might beg to differ. Foreign visitors typically spend about four times as much as domestic visitors, he said.

Overall, tourists spent about US$44 billion in the city last year, NYC & Company estimated. The agency extrapolates its tourist counts from tallies taken at popular attractions like the Empire State Building and from airport traffic and hotel occupancy data. NYC & Company counts anyone who stays overnight or travels from more than 80km away as a visitor.

Last year, the city's hotels sold 37.7 million overnight stays, the most ever, the agency said. Those stays generated more than US$620 million in taxes for the city, it said.

A hotel-building boom has been going on in the city for several years. There now are 119,000 rooms in the city, with nearly 20,000 planned or under construction, said Chris Heywood, a spokesman for NYC & Company.

The long, steady surge in tourism traces back more than a decade to a decision by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor, to spend more money to promote the city. In 2007, when the city was drawing about 44 million visitors a year, he set the seemingly audacious goal of raising that number to 50 million by 2015.

After city officials took control of NYC & Company from the hotel and restaurant industries and increased its budget, tourism grew even faster than Mr Bloomberg had imagined. If Mr Dixon's forecast proves accurate, the number of tourists this year will be 50 per cent higher than in 2007. NYTIMES

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