Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Friday, 19 November 2010

Business booms as the Big Apple bounces back

Broadway at Times Square
Ticket sales on Broadway are up this year despite the recession

By Fiona Foster
Presenter, Fast Track

In the heady, free spending, high rolling days of 2008, New York was enjoying a record number of visitors, as 47 million tourists came to stay in the city that never sleeps.

But when the earthquake in the financial markets late in the year signalled the start of the worldwide recession, New York was at its very epicentre.

Suddenly the Big Apple found itself quickly experiencing a drop in tourists for the first time since the dark days of 2001, as individuals, and in particular companies reined in their spending.

"In New York it was more of the high-end hotels that felt the pain because corporations went on a diet in terms of business travel and as a result of that directed many of their travellers to either not take the trip, not attend those meetings or if they did, to try to do it in a less expensive manner," says Peter Yesawich of travel research company Ypartnership.

Wall Street sign
The US Senate approved sweeping reforms of Wall Street in May

But just like the tourists craning their necks on Manhattan's streets, things, it seems are looking up.

In the first half of this year, hotel occupancy rates increased by almost 7%, Broadway ticket sales climbed by 3.7% and city officials say that early figures show New York is on course to set a new record this year of 47.5 million visitors, suggesting Mayor Bloomberg's goal of attracting 50 million by 2012 may still be on track, recession or no recession.

But New York is bucking the trend in the States, where other destinations like Las Vegas which have suffered badly over the last few years are struggling to bounce back.

'Unparalleled energy'

Apart from the obvious myriad of attractions on offer what makes New York special?

"I think people really feel the sense of home," explains George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company, New York's official tourism organisation.

"I think the diversification means you can always find something to relate to, there's an energy that's unparalleled and there's an optimism as it leads the US."

Tourism is vital to the Big Apple. It pours around $30bn (£19bn) of direct spending into the economy every year.

One in nine workers in the city are employed in the hospitality industry - in hotels, restaurants, museums and theatres. No wonder then that it has been working so hard to get visitors back.

In the city's luxury hotels like the Trump Soho, which opened in April this year, with almost 400 rooms to fill on its 46 floors, attracting corporate guests is vital.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald, has been heavily involved in the launch of their new outpost.

"The business traveller is extremely important to us and we make sure we have very specific programmes in place to foster loyalty in those types of accounts," says Ms Trump, executive vice president of the Trump Organization.

"For us and most hoteliers that midweek traffic is largely business travel and it's very important to fill rooms Monday to Thursday and business travel is how you do it."

Savvy travellers

But in these post-downturn days, according to Peter Yesawich, even business people with deeper pockets than most have developed a different approach towards spending - he calls it the "new frugal".

Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York
Manhatten fills for Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade

"In the travel business today we have a number of new technologies that allow these very astute consumers to shop comparatively for prices, whether it's for business class air or lodging in a 5 star hotel," he says.

"And having done that we see this renewed sense of aggressiveness on the part of these affluent consumers that says, yes I do want a 5 star experience but I don't want to pay 5 star rates."

So if bang for your buck, as they say over here, has become all-important in the wake of the recession, then for upmarket hotel chains like Trump the way to win over the business traveller is to provide a very personalised service

"For our business traveller we've created an attaché service which goes above and beyond a traditional concierge in that we have a full department to cater to the needs of those travellers," explains Ms Trump.

Attracting the high spending corporate client by providing a service tailored specifically to his or her needs was also the idea behind British Airways all-business class flight between London's small City airport close to the Square Mile and New York.

There's a new life to New York these days which is encouraging and working from Trump Tower I look out of my window every day and the streets of 5th Avenue are full again
Ivanka Trump, Executive VP, Trump Organization

The service, which started a year ago, allows 15 minute check-in, pre-clearance of immigration and customs before arrival in the States and the chance to stay connected with the office while on board. Those added extras have proved popular.

"Many people cut back in terms of they're worried about recession, they're worrying about their incomes, so if they are going to spend they're going to spend on quality," says business traveller Andrew Solum.

"I think this service is quality. I heard two customers on a recent flight coming back from New York refer to this as a boutique service - how many boutique airline services have you heard of?"

'New life'

So it seems that after a temporary hiatus New York City has got its buzz back

"There's a new life to New York these days which is encouraging and working from Trump Tower I look out of my window every day and the streets of 5th Avenue are full again," says Ms trump.

"You walk down Madison Avenue and you hear foreign accents again - for a long period of time we lost a lot of that."

And those Manhattan streets are going to be very busy this weekend as the days after Thanksgiving are traditionally considered the busiest shopping days of the year in the US.

If you needed another sign that New York is on the up, for the ninth year in a row 5th Avenue between 49th and 60th has been named the world's most expensive shopping street - where retail space rents for $1850 (£1167) a square foot, that's up 8.8% from last year.

So if all this puts a smile on Mayor Bloomberg's face what does it mean for the visitors he is so eager to attract?

"As a frequent visitor to New York and I won't disclose the name of the hotel but I was there two weeks ago and I stayed at a midtown hotel and paid $615 (£386) a night for a standard room," says Mr Yesawich.

"That same room a year and a half ago was about $285 (£180) a night so I would say if you're headed to New York make sure you've got plenty of credit on your credit card and cash in your wallet - it's going to be an expensive visit."

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Watch Fast Track on the BBC World News channel on Fridays at 2230 GMT, Saturdays at 1230 and 1830 GMT or Sundays at 0730 GMT.

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