A City Council committee took the first step today towards establishing an emergency Office for Tourism Recovery.
It would work within the mayor’s office for the next five years to assist local businesses by helping them navigate bureaucracy and help New Yorkers rediscover their city while assuring international visitors that the city is once again safe to visit.
At a hearing of the Committee of Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, agencies and cultural organizations affected by the pandemic stressed the importance of the arts and culture to New York.
“In March of this year, along with everyone else, our world completely changed due to COVID-19. By the time April came, the NYC travel and tourism agencies ground to a complete stop,” said Fred Dickson, president and CEO of NYC & Company, a marketing and tourism organization, at the virtual hearing. “The city that never sleeps went to sleep.”
Committee Chairman James Van Bramer emphasized the importance of the arts and culture. “When you help and you sustain the cultural community in New York, you help and sustain the tourism industry, and you actually sustain our people,” he said. “In these times, people need to laugh, and dance, hear music, sing and feel joy more than ever.”
The arts serve as an economic driver, Van Bramer pointed out. One of the largest industries in the city, arts and culture employ at least 400,000 people and generate $31 billion in wages and $110 billion in economic activity.
The pandemic hit these sectors and tourism hard. Overall visitor spending is expected to drop by two thirds in 2020, generating $16 billion in contrast to last year’s $64 billion, Dickson noted. Hotel room demand has fallen by 68 percent since mid-March, causing a ripple effect in hotel taxes and unemployment lost.
Almost half the jobs in travel and accommodation disappeared. The leisure and hospitality industry has lost more jobs — 49 percent — than the financial, information and professional business sectors combined.
In the arts and culture sector, the losses are even more staggering. Six in 10 jobs in the field rely on visitor spending, causing a 65 percent job loss, DIckson continued, while the performing arts are down 70 percent and the museums 44 percent.
The committee also discussed a bill to allow cultural institutions to perform and show work in open public spaces, like dance performances or exhibitions. The bill calls for a mobile app that allows visitors and residents to discover cultural programs happening near them.
“The cultural sector is the backbone of New York City’s economy,” added Council Member Laurie Cumbo, the majority leader.
Those speaking at the hearing – including the city’s Cultural Affairs Commissioner Gonzalo Casals and representatives from theatre and dance companies, sounded enthusiastic.
But Ellyn Cantfield, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management, which oversees permits for events in public spaces, expressed concerns that such plans “may be duplicative.” The city already has a free permit application and a mobile app specific to park events, she noted.
The committee has postponed action on both bills and will meet again but didn’t specify a date.
(Graph by Dala Osseiran; data from the New York State Department of Labor.)