Tourists Support the Arts, But Not All, in NYC

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which reported record-breaking attendance this year, also thanks tourists for its swelling numbers. Flickr/ asterix611

It’s summer in New York City, and we all know what that means: humidity, mosquito bites and another fact of life that New Yorkers love to complain about: tourists.

But no matter how frustrating the throngs of slow-moving visitors may be, residents of the Big Apple might want to take a moment to thank them. All 50.5 million of them.

New York City needs tourists. They support our economy by keeping hotels and restaurants throughout the city full, and by providing upwards of 350,000 people with jobs. According to NYC & Company, the official marketing, tourism and partnership organization lauded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, tourists spent $31.5 billion in the city in 2011, or 12 percent of total spending, and are projected to spend $45 billion by the year 2015.

Tourists also play a huge role in supporting the arts in the city. Without these “cultural tourists,” the arts icons of New York City — from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to Broadway — might not be able to flourish on local dollars alone. According to NYC & Company, in 2010, 44 percent of all visitors to New York City participated in a cultural activity during their stay. International visitors are more than twice as likely to do so, with 79 percent visiting a cultural institution, compared to 35 percent of domestic visitors.

The Broadway League, a trade association that represents the Great White Way, releases an annual report on the health of their industry, analyzing the money that comes in, and where it comes from. The most recent report for 2010-2011 found that tourists spent $5,942,600 on Broadway with a total financial impact of $8,954,800 across tourism industries in the city.

Sixty percent of attendees at the Museum of Modern Art are from outside the country; 25 percent are from outside New York and the tri-state area. Flickr/ suezsue

So while tourism grows, the strength of the arts does as well. Broadway’s financial contribution to New York City has been increasing, the report said, “primarily because of the growth in its audience from outside the New York metropolitan area.”

“It [tourism] has always been an important part of Broadway,” said Broadway League Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin. “The tourists make a big difference.”

In the 2010–2011 season, 10.2 million tickets were purchased by people who lived outside New York City.

It’s not just Broadway that is seeing the benefits. MetroFocus asked museums across the city about attendees, and found a similar pattern.

At the Museum of Modern Art, approximately 60 percent of last year’s 3 million museum-goers reside abroad, and 25 percent were from the United States, and 15 percent resided in New York City or the tri-state area. Attendance in 2007 was 2.3 million.

At the Guggenheim Museum, the numbers were similar: 62 percent of visitors are from outside the country, 25 percent are from the United States and 13 percent are from New York City and the tri-state area.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which reported record-breaking attendance this year, also thanks tourists for its swelling numbers. In the last five years, attendance at the Met has grown from 4.6 million people to 6.2 million, with 35 percent coming from outside the country, 25 percent from the United States, 18 percent from the tri-state area and 25 percent from New York City.

At the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which focuses on the immigrant heritage of the neighborhood, reports an even geographic divide in its visitors’ origins: 33 percent of its 200,000 visitors this year are from outside the country, 33 percent are from the United States and 33 percent are from New York City and the tri-state area.

At the Metropolitan Museum, Senior Vice-President of External Affairs Harold Holzer said the percentage of foreign visitors has specifically been on the upswing, growing by six percent in the past five years.

“That’s pretty huge for us,” he said, adding that the museum encourages more foreign tourists by having a multi-language website and attending tourism conventions around the world.

The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side said two-thirds of visitors are from outside the city and the tri-state area. Flickr/wallyg

The same is true at MoMA. In 2007, the percentage of international tourists jumped from 52 percent to 64 percent.

The nonprofit Alliance for the Arts studied and supported the arts in New York City until 2011, when it closed after more than 30 years.  Under its longtime president Randall Bourscheidt, the advocacy organization published studies on the health of the city’s arts economy. According to Bourscheidt, the city attracts a wide range of cultural tourists, including “arts motivated visitors.”

“A pattern we’ve found: people who are motivated to come to the city because of its cultural attractions are highly likely to sample more than one cultural activity or have more than one cultural experience,” he said.

Not all arts groups have seen the same kind of interest from city visitors. Perhaps because some groups are more specifically geared toward arts aficionados, or because they require people commit to a schedule or even make advance purchases, such as for performances. The Joyce Theater, which hosts renowned modern dance and ballet companies from around the world, reports that just 14 percent of ticket holders come from outside New York City and the tri-state area, and only 3 percent from outside the country.

The same is true at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which presents concerts, dance performances, theater and cinema at three venues. Seventy-eight percent of visitors are from New York City, nine percent are from the suburbs, and five percent are from the United States and five percent are international.

But of course, while tourists are certainly participating in the arts, they are also taking part in another ever-popular past time: shopping. According to a recent article in The New York Times, 12 million people shop at the Woodbury Commons outlet mall in upstate New York each year. The outlet, one hour by express bus from Port Authority, is more popular than Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, the article reported.

A drop in the number of visitors to New York City such as occurred after September 11 would certainly affect the arts institutions again, said Bourscheidt. But for now, despite the global economic crisis, tourism numbers are up.

“Large numbers of people are coming and continue to come…Whether they’re coming for a cultural institution or for the overall sex appeal of the city, it’s great news for the city’s economy,” he said.

And according to Holzer, even when some economies slump, others grow.

“The last year has been tough in many areas but foreign tourism is up, and the pool of potential visitors is great,” he said.


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