Be a Better Tourist in NYC, Even If You’re a Local

Be a Better Tourist in NYC, Even If You’re a Local

June 08, 2012 at 4:00 am

Whether we should credit the hardworking members of New York City’s tourism industry or simply the world’s good sense, in 2011 New York City welcomed the most tourists ever, reaching Mayor Bloomberg’s goal of 50 million visitors well before 2015, the original projected milestone year. 

MetroFocus asked some of the foot soldiers of tourism — those who make their livings advising and guiding tourists on the ground, on wheels or water — what they wish tourists, and New Yorkers, understood about the city. Many gave New Yorkers credit for their willingness to help a lost tourist out, even if the same tourists will annoy countless locals during their slow walk of wonder to their destination.

On the Ground

Big Apple Greeter Chafin Elliott traveling with tourists by subway. He specializes Harlem and was Greeter of the Year in 2005. Photo by Marcus Reidenberg.

Gail Morse

Director of programs and volunteers, Big Apple Greeter. Call (212) 669-8159 for general information; all bookings are handled online.

A friendly force of volunteer Big Apple Greeters introduce out-of-town visitors to NYC by foot and subway. Greeters are not tour guides, so don’t expect narrations on how many steps the Empire State Building has. A luxury is the free pick-up service: because of too many “missed connections” at arranged meeting points, greeters always meet visitors at their accommodations, no matter where in the five boroughs. This is your chance to spend one-on-one time with “a real New Yorker.”

Common tourist misconceptions?

That New York City is dangerous, and I have to thank “Law and Order” for that. Everywhere in the world is some version of “Law and Order” playing that starts off with a dead body in New York City.

Are New Yorkers tough on tourists?

I think the biggest complaint is that it is if there are five people together in a group, those five people will all walk next to each other and block the sidewalk. But I also think that New Yorkers are very open-minded and have big hearts. I think 99.9 percent of New Yorkers are thrilled that they live in the city and that everyone in the world wants to come visit it. I think they are proud of that.

Rocky Rodriguez sells Broadway show tickets at Times Square Visitor Center. MetroFocus/Menglin Huang

Rocky Rodriguez

Agent at Times Square Visitor Center who sells tickets to Broadway shows. Entrance at Seventh Ave. between 46th and 47th streets.

Common tourist misconceptions?

That New Yorkers are rude. I think the way that the New Yorker is portrayed in film and television kinda has this tough stereotype. More often than not, dealing with tourists –  I get the response that New Yorkers are not rude. They are often surprised to be helped on the street if they ask for directions or if they are lost.

I find that tourists want to see more of the local community. I guess any New Yorker would just say, “go see the Statue of Liberty” or “go see the Empire State Building.” I would consider that as steering them in a wrong direction because there’s a lot more to New York than just those major sights.

Advice for locals?

New Yorkers tend to get very used to their neighborhood and don’t know the light outside of that. So you find yourself surprised when you are in say, the Upper East Side if you’re not there that often, and you will be like “oh, I never knew this restaurant was here.’”

Over 1,000 people come to Charles for directions every day. MetroFocus/Menglin Huang

Charles Howard

Times Square Public Safety officer for Times Square Alliance

Common tourist misconceptions?

The misconception about New York could be the crime and the rudeness of people. New York is a great place and also an aggressive place. Aggressive means it’s a beautiful place to come and visit, but you know, it’s a busy place. Although there’s a lot of beautifulness, it’s also a place with high energy and stuff like that. So if you wanna come, get your energy ready.


Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street and Eighth Ave. Photo by Roger Rowlett.


NJ Transit Customer Service Representative at Port Authority Bus Terminal, between 40th and 42nd Streets at Eighth Ave. Serves as main terminal for interstate buses into Manhattan, including buses from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

What do you wish tourists understood about New York?

A lot of them don’t know the difference between New York and New Jersey – we’re two separate states. They think it’s all one big place. Transportation-wise, tourists think that you can use one ticket on everything. They try to go to New Jersey with an MTA card.

They do talk to strangers a lot as well. I think they’re naive about it and they should be a little more careful, because Port Authority is a public terminal, and there are panhandlers, and they let them take their luggage and give them directions. But all these people want to do is take their money.

Allan Wong

Allan Wong (far left) with fellow staff members at the Ice Festival in Central Park. Image courtesy of Central Park Conservancy.

Senior Business Services Representative, Central Park Conservancy, which has visitor centers throughout the Central Park. Its mission is to restore, manage, and enhance Central Park for present and future generations of park-goers.

What about New Yorkers?

New Yorkers are good at giving directions and helping tourists out.

New Yorkers don’t know much about wildlife in New York City – they think raccoons are wildlife. They think that wildlife shouldn’t be in the park, and that it’s our job to get rid of it, when sometimes, it actually belongs there.


On Wheels and Water

Claire Gorayeb

Bike and Roll at Central Park and Columbus Circle. MetroFocus/Lindsay Armstrong

Director of Marketing for Bike and Roll. Bikes can be rented by the hour or for a half or full day at locations around the city including Battery Park, Central Park Columbus Circle and Pier 84. Other locations are open on the weekend only. They also offer guided bike tours and itineraries for self-guided tours. Bike and Roll rents bike to about  100,000 people each year.

What do you wish tourists knew?

They don’t realize how much traffic-free biking there is in New York City. Beyond Central Park, you have the Hudson River bike paths, the one on the East River, Brooklyn and Queens. They’re all traffic free. Once someone does it and realizes they can ride for miles and miles uninterrupted, they’re thrilled.

Many New Yorkers don’t know it either. Because they don’t live all the way over on the rivers, they might not realize it’s there. The thing about living in New York is that you always have visitors. People’s guests want to ride. That’s when the New Yorkers come to us. Many don’t know how easy it is to ride in the city, either traffic-free or how to ride in traffic safely. For example, our office is on 30th between Sixth and Seventh avenues, right in the middle of Midtown with all of the tall buildings and traffic, but there’s a bike lane on 29th and one on 30th so it’s really no problem to bike here.


Chris Mason

One of Circle Line's tour boats makes its way around Manhattan. Flickr/Randy Levine

Circle Line tour guide since 1985. Mason got into the tourism business because his father was a tour guide with Circle Line for 50 years. Circle Line offers a variety of sightseeing tours that cruise around the island of Manhattan. The standard tour takes in the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. There is also a speed boat tour known as “The Beast” and a night time “Harbor Lights” cruise. Boats leave from Pier 83 at West 42nd Street and Twelfth Avenue. The ticket booth is at the pier.

Are New Yorkers much help to tourists?

New Yorkers understand that tourism is an essential part of the economy of the city. I wouldn’t say that we don’t reach out to people, but New Yorkers are multi-taskers. We have a cup of coffee in one hand, a cell phone in the other. We’re on a mission, but if you approach us, we’ll give you directions.

What New Yorkers should know?

A lot of New Yorkers will go on a boat tour when they have out-of-town visitors. They’ve lived in Brooklyn or Manhattan for years, but have never done it. A lot of New Yorkers don’t go out and visit their own landmarks like the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building.

Bill Paholak

CitySights NY ticket agent in Times Square. MetroFocus/Esha Ray.

Tour guide for CitySights NY double decker bus (he declined to be photographed, but a sales agent was game, even if he declined to give his name). Purchase tickets at 243 West 42nd Street (entrance to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum) or from ticket agents (in yellow) around Midtown Manhattan. Double decker bus tours, sightseeing cruises in and around New York City.

What do you wish tourists understood about New York?

Everyone kind of thinks Times Square is New York. Times Square is not New York, Times Square is Disney World. There are some businesses here, but nobody lives here. So a big misconception is, what you see in Times Square is what you see everywhere, when it actuality, this city is a city of immigrants. So the people sitting on the [CitySights NY] bus, I tell them, “You really represent the city itself.”

Buyer Beware?

Street vendors here, if they know you’re from New York, they’ll give you a hot dog and a soda and say it’s $3.25. [A tourist] asks for a hot dog and soda — suddenly it’s eight bucks.