Location: What’s the bigger accomplishment: The underdog New York Giants beating the undefeated New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl? Or, New York’s tourism industry rebounding after 9/11?
Mr. Tisch: I would say, for different constituencies, the accomplishments are about the same, and, actually, some of the lessons are the same. The lessons are that by working together, by putting aside your individual concerns, by always understanding the greater good, you can accomplish a lot.
The tourism community, and New York City, in general, were ripped apart by the tragedy of September 11. At that moment, then-Mayor Giuliani asked me to bring together the community, because he understood that we were uniquely poised to help rebuild the city’s economy. That’s when we started New York Rising. We put aside individual concerns. You had the hoteliers working with the restaurant community and Broadway theater owners, and we had packages that were very attractive.
Very quickly after September 11, you started to see what we called ‘patriotic tourism’—individuals and groups coming from all over the country. Then, in May 2002, Mayor Bloomberg app inted me as chair of NYC & Company.
As for the Giants, here was a team that started the season 0-2. There could have been dissension. There could have been a sense on the part of the players and the coaching staff that they didn’t want to show the world that they were a unified team. But look where they ended up. So there are parallels.
The numbers certainly indicate a record number of tourists last year. But how accurate are those figures? New York City is not Disneyland, after all. There’s no turnstile, no guy with a clicker counting visitors through the gate.
There are certain metrics that come out of the Commerce Department and that come out of the [city’s Economic Development Corporation], and through that, the staff at NYC & Company is able to come up with a figure that we feel is very accurate. Our numbers are considered very good. The numbers are also very positive—46 million visitors in 2007, as well as an increase in international visitors.
This industry is a major contributor to the economic success of New York City. And, as we face some type of downturn, travel and tourism become even more important. It is significant that the mayor [Mr. Bloomberg] understood our industry, working very closely with Dan Doctoroff [former deputy mayor for economic development]. The contributions that they made in creating NYC & Company, the additional $15 million a year to promote New York City and open offices throughout the world—those steps have proven vital.
International travelers, by and large, have been taking advantage of the weak U.S. dollar. But now, even the banks in Great Britain are seeing signs of a downturn. So that may change.
Right, but we have to understand the current trends and then always plan for the future. The current trend is that the dollar is still weak. We’re seeing significant arrival increases, especially from Canada and Mexico. But also, when you put it into the context of global tourism, more people around the world are able to travel for the first times in their lives. Their countries are allowing them to leave and they also have the ability in terms of finance to finally take a trip. That’s why promotion and these offices that we’ve opened in global cities are so important. We’re there saying, ‘Yes, you can travel. Come to New York City. Come see the greatest city in the world.’
The other piece of this is, for the past 12 years, I’ve been fighting with many others for an increase in the size of the Javits Center, because that is another way that we can protect ourselves against downturns in the economy, having an expanded center that can handle bigger groups. Hopefully, we’ll continue to work and show that Javits is important as anything.
Yeah, how is that Javits thing going?
Well, [laughing] clearly, there are some fiscal issues that have become apparent in the work of the Spitzer administration. But the [hotel] industry is very committed to saying, ‘You know, we taxed ourselves, let’s work with the budget that’s out there; if we can expand the facility by X amount of square feet, so be it. But let’s fix up what we have and understand that we need a good facility to remain competitive in that particular marketplace.’
This decision to resign from NYC & Company—is this more about the fact that you’ve attained your goals? Or is it more about getting out while the getting’s good?
It’s about understanding that, after six years, I am thrilled to have been able to work with the mayor and Daniel Doctoroff. We’ve put together a superb organization, and it’s time for other individuals to make their contributions. I’m a firm believer in the power of travel and tourism. I’m taking that message now on a national level as chair of the Travel Business Roundtable. There are other activities that I’m looking at: the continuation of my TV show, maybe authoring additional books, finishing Giants-Jets stadium, certainly continuing to work with my cousins in the management of Loews Corporation.