By Eric Jankiewicz
Rob MacKay is the gatekeeper to the World’s Borough. Or, as he puts it, “I’m basically the cheerleader of Queens.”
MacKay directs the marketing, tourism and public relations department for the Queens Economic Development Corp. But a more accurate appraisal would be to say that he is that department. On any given day, weekends included, MacKay is fueled by his energy-rich love of Queens, leading tours through the borough for international travel agencies, travel writers and food writers.
The other part of his job is to stir enough interest in the borough to get those people to come to Queens in the first place for the tour.
“Historically, Queens has been a joke,” MacKay said. “Archie Bunker did not do us any favor. So there’s a problem bringing people to Queens and it’s my job to hustle it up.”
MacKay may have been born in Brooklyn, but he’s a full Queens convert. At 21, he took a job in Woodside teaching English to immigrants.
“And I just started falling in love with Queens,” he said. “It’s never dull over here.”
He now lives in Sunnyside with his wife and two daughters. Fluent in Spanish, he served in the Peace Corps in Honduras and worked as a reporter/editor at the Times Newsweekly in Ridgewood before joining the QEDC.
Capitalizing on the hotel boom, MacKay branded the borough as a cheap alternative to Manhattan for tourists and travelers. And part of that job is sometimes as simple as telling people that Long Island City is not, in fact, in Long Island but rather minutes away from Manhattan. But as simple as that may seem, it’s an important distinction. Long Island City hotels estimate that they lose 15 percent of potential business because of that mistake, according to MacKay, who works closely with the hotel industry.
He also tries to highlight the borough’s attractions – Flushing Meadows comes to mind – in an attempt to get visitors to stay in Queens once they get a hotel.
MacKay is also realistic about his job. He knows who will and who won’t visit Queens.
“Sometimes it’s just a battle of attrition,” he said. “If you’re looking to go skiing, I can’t help you. But if you want some amazing Cantonese food, let’s talk. And, of course, I know people from the Upper East Side will never come here. They just won’t and I’m fine with that.”
The ultimate goal of raising the profile of Queens is to put money into the economy and ultimately create more jobs, something he has seen over the last couple of years with the continuing hotel boom.
The borough still has some challenges to overcome, MacKay said, the biggest being transportation issues. But he is confident that this won’t stop the ascent of Queens.
“Brooklyn had its day,” MacKay said. “Now it’s Queens’ turn.”