A Queens lawmaker is seeking to create an Office of Tourism Recovery to support New York City’s tourism industries and arts and culture during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Councilman Paul Vallone’s legislation was supported and discussed by fellow council members, industry leaders and advocates at a joint-hearing held on Sept. 24 by the Economic Development and Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations Committees.
“Acknowledging the difficult recovery ahead, my bill seeks to create a dedicated office that would report directly to the mayor and support tourism recovery throughout the city over the course of the next five challenging years,” Vallone said. “Proactive efforts like these will ensure the ‘City that Never Sleeps’ stays dynamic, vibrant and wide awake in this new reality.”
Since March, tourist numbers have plummeted and the city’s tourism economy has shed over 200,000 jobs. Hotel occupancy rates fell to 15 percent in late March, and as of earlier this month, those rates improved to just around 38 percent, well below the industry standard.
Broadway, a massive economic driver, remains shuttered and restaurants have been limited to takeout or outdoor dining, according to Vallone, who acknowledged that long-term economic recovery planning is critical to ensure success in the years ahead.
Currently, NYC & Company functions as the city’s tourism bureau and handles marketing to maximize travel and tourism in New York City, build economic prosperity, and spread the image of NYC around the world.
“This global pandemic is challenging our resilience. We need to think outside the box and I thank the New York City Council for your creative thinking and offer my support for these bills today,” said Cristyne Nicholas, chair of the Broadway Association and former CEO of NYC & Co.
Vallone’s bill seeks to complement and further this work by creating an Office of Tourism Recovery which, led by a director, would serve as a conduit between city agencies and the public on tourism-related issues and coordinate on tourism recovery.
The office would also be charged with a quarterly report analyzing tourism revenue, recovery efforts and relevant successes or recommendations. In line with estimates that tourism is not expected to return to pre-COVID levels until 2025 or 2026, this new office would cease to exist after five years.
In his testimony, Vijay Dandapani, president of the Hotel Association of NYC, highlighted that hotels, which have been historically provided over 50,000 jobs to New Yorkers, are now down to 10,000 employees.
Dandapani said Vallone’s legislation “Would be a welcome addition to the very-much needed recovery efforts at the city level to support the future of tourism in NYC.”
“With the impact of COVID-19, the industry has been all but destroyed, with many hotels closing and others holding on by a thread,” Dandapani said. “We badly need relief if we are going to survive the coming months and years to provide the 50,000 jobs that we provided prior to COVID, and we welcome any support that the City might be able to give.”
Troy Flanagan, senior vice president of Government Affairs and Industry Relations, also voiced support for the creation of an office of tourism recovery.
“Any effort to support hotels and the tourism industry in NYC will be crucial to hotels’ survival as an industry, as a provider of good-paying, quality job opportunities, and as a key contributor to the tax base of the city’s economy,” Flanagan said.