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New Report Finds NYC's Tourism Boom Powering Job Growth At Museums, Performing Arts Venues, And Broadway Theaters

A new report published today by the Center for an Urban Future finds that the record increase in tourists to New York City over the past two decades sparked thousands of new jobs at the city's museums, performing arts venues, and Broadway theaters.

The city's museums have added more than 4,400 jobs since 2002, an 86 percent increase. According to the report, many of these new jobs would not have been created if not for sharp increases in visitation from tourists. In fact, tourists now comprise 73 percent of visitors to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), 70 percent of visitors to the Whitney Museum of American Art, and 60 percent of the Metropolitan Museum's visitors.

The report, which was funded by the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) and Times Square Alliance, shows that visitation to the 33 institutions in the city's Cultural Institutions Group (CIG) increased 33 percent from 2006 to 2016, and well over half of that increase is from tourists. MoMA, for example, welcomed 1.3 million more visitors in 2016 compared to 1997-an 80 percent increase-and nearly one million of those additional visitors were tourists. Out-of-towners have also driven much of the growth in annual attendance at the Whitney Museum since its move to the Meatpacking District in 2015; it attracted 1.15 million visitors in 2016, a 209 percent increase from the 372,000 visitors it had in 2009. Tourists have also sparked growth at many smaller venues and festivals. For instance, tourists comprise 40 percent of ticket buyers to Brooklyn's Afropunk festival, which attracted 70,000 attendees last year-up from 250 in 2005.

This increase in tourism has led to exponential job growth at the city's cultural attractions. In Manhattan and Brooklyn alone, employment at museums increased by 81 percent over the past decade and a half-4,772 jobs in 2002 to 8,870 jobs in 2016. In Brooklyn, the number of people working at performing arts companies nearly tripled, from 515 in 2002 to 1,508. Overall, the city's arts, entertainment, and recreation industries added 29,770 jobs since the year 2000, a 54 percent increase-one of the steepest increases of any sector.

Tourism has also fueled job growth on Broadway, where out-of-towners now comprise 61 percent of the audience. The 41 Broadway theaters alone have added more than 2,300 jobs since 2009, and currently employ more than 12,500 people.

Tourists have also bolstered cultural institutions outside of Manhattan. Two decades ago, for instance, tourists were just a sliver of the audience at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music (BAM). But today, 12 percent of BAM's ticket buyers hail from beyond the five boroughs. Likewise, the Brooklyn Museum has seen strong growth from tourists over the past two decades. Today, 19 percent of visitors to the Brooklyn Museum live outside New York City, and the number has increased by 8 percent in just the past two years.

The report also shows that international tourists account for 29 percent of all sales the city's art dealers and galleries, according to our analysis of Visa credit card transactions.

The report provides the first comprehensive analysis of how the city's tourism boom over the past two decades has impacted New York's economy. The number of tourists visiting New York City has increased from 33 million a year in the late 1990s to 62.7 million in 2017. According to the report, this 90 percent increase in annual tourists has spurred hundreds of thousands of jobs and elevated tourism into one of the four key drivers of New York City's economy. The study reveals that there are now more direct jobs in tourism (291,084) than in finance (268,200) and nearly twice as many jobs as in the city's tech sector (128,600). It also shows that tourism has become an increasingly vital source of middle-income jobs in New York.

However, the study also concludes that New York's tourism sector faces several new and evolving challenges that could cause tourism to slip and jobs to decline-from the strengthening dollar and growing negative perceptions of the U.S. to capacity problems at the city's airports. And it finds that New York has never adequately planned for a city with 60 million tourists a year, or made sufficient investments in its tourism infrastructure to sustain this many annual visitors.

The report includes several recommendations to strengthen the city's tourism sector amidst a growing number of threats and challenges. These include:

  • Upgrade the city's tourism infrastructure. New York has never adequately planned for a city with 60-plus million tourists a year, and it has not made enough of the infrastructure investments necessary to sustain this many annual visitors. This means everything from creating new solutions for tour bus parking to modernizing the air traffic control system.
  • Increase the city's tourism promotion budget. New York boasts one of the best tourism promotion agencies in the world, NYC & Company. But while Mayor de Blasio has increased NYC & Company's public funding, its overall budget has not stayed competitive with that of tourism promotion agencies in other global destinations.
  • Create the city's first long-term tourism plan, with involvement from economic development, planning, and transportation agencies. With tourists accounting for roughly 70 percent of passengers at JFK Airport and 50 percent at LaGuardia, the Port Authority should work to improve the airport experience for tourists. The agency has made important investments in recent years, yet more could be done. For instance, most passengers at the city's three airports can't get free WiFi in their terminals. Meanwhile, more public signage and displays should be made available in multiple languages.

The full report, titled Destination New York, can be read here:

The Center for an Urban Future (CUF) is a leading New York City-based think tank that publishes studies focused on growing the economy and expanding economic opportunity in New York City. For more information about CUF, visit:

Association for a Better New York is a nearly 50-year-old civic advocacy organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those that live and work in New York City and for those who visit. We work with the city, the state, and the federal government, as well as with our business and civic members, to achieve positive results for all of New York's communities.

Times Square Alliance, founded in 1992, works to improve and promote Times Square-cultivating the creativity, energy, and edge that have made the area an icon of entertainment, culture, and urban life for over a century.

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