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A poster bears the image of actor Robert De Niro offering some sightseeing advice in Japanese. Battling the perception that New Yorkers are too busy, aloof or rude to offer a helping hand, New York City officials are encouraging tourists to “Just Ask the Locals” in a new marketing campaign designed to make travelers feel more welcome during their stay.
AP photo//NYC & Company
A poster bears the image of actor Robert De Niro offering some sightseeing advice in Japanese. Battling the perception that New Yorkers are too busy, aloof or rude to offer a helping hand, New York City officials are encouraging tourists to “Just Ask the Locals” in a new marketing campaign designed to make travelers feel more welcome during their stay.

NYC launches campaign for foreign tourists

By Samantha Gross
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK — Mara Haensel started her vacation braced for disaster.

She arrived at the airport near her home in Barcelona, Spain, three hours early, in case some security official decided to detain her for questioning. She carefully noted the address where she’d be staying in New York City, since a friend told her that without it border officials would send her right home.

“Since 9/11, everyone is afraid” of security problems when traveling to the United States, Haensel said after picking up her luggage at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

That perception of the U.S. as an unwelcoming destination has tourism officials in New York City and tourism-related businesses nationwide focusing on a new marketing campaign and a national lobbying effort to try to win over foreigners who may have been picking other vacation spots.

New York City launched its marketing effort Wednesday. The city is one of only a few U.S. urban centers that did not see a drop in the number of overseas visitors between 2000 and 2006, and officials want to make sure the city holds onto that lead.

Now, international visitors arriving at one Kennedy Airport terminal will be greeted with large welcome signs and red-jacketed workers offering information, maps and insider tips on the city. Visitors who leave the airport in a taxi may also see a promotional video, and tourists around the city will see posters from the “Just Ask the Locals” campaign, featuring New York-based celebrities suggesting favorite itineraries.

The signs and greeters surrounding visitors before and after they go through Customs are meant to counteract any negative first impressions, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

“Tourists complain that U.S. immigration officials are rude and disrespectful, and they don’t think that’s a good way to start a vacation,” Bloomberg said. “This is another one of those things that is diminishing our competitive edge.”

Travel industry advocates say the U.S. should be working harder to maintain an industry that brought $107.9 billion into the country in 2006 — essentially making services to travelers one of the nation’s major exports.

Global travel

Last year’s U.S. travel income was the highest ever, according to the Commerce Department. But industry group Discover America Partnership warns that while the number of travelers around the world is rising, the number of U.S. visitors from countries other than Canada and Mexico fell 17 percent from 2000 to 2006.

That drop, they say, is partly due to perceived difficulties faced by travelers to the U.S. since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Despite Haensel’s fears of difficulty entering the country, “actually it was fine in the end,” she said. And of the handful of visitors leaving a JFK exit at the same time as Haensel, none said they had had a bad run-in with officials.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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