OP-ED: Is NYC Tourism Out of Control?

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:15

By John Elari

NYC & Co., NYC's official marketing ombudsman for tourism, can now boast of reaching a staggering 55 million visitors to Gotham, one year ahead of their 2015 target. And with 18 tourist offices now operating in 18 different countries, their hope is to bring that total even higher as the years roll by. My question is, when is enough, enough?

Yes, tourism is great for the economy of the city, but at what cost to New Yorkers? A recent walk west-to-east along 42nd Street, end to end, found me utterly inundated by all things tourist. NYC has been completely given over to the industry, a fact made evident to the far reaches of our five boroughs, and it's only going to get worse. Our streets and subways are already more chaotic, congested, dirty, filled with noise and confusion by a recent upsurge in population, but now by the constant deluge of tourist, an estimated 100,000 and climbing roaming about daily.

It now seems that everyone is trying to make a fast buck off tourists, and nowhere is that more obvious then by the sudden influx of live cartoon characters in Times Square infringing upon picture-takers and then demanding a minimum five-spot for the unrequested favor. A recent New York Times piece points to plans for much further development in the Square in coming years; all geared toward tourism. A friend living close by says there are no amenities -- supermarkets, etc., -- but merely a plethora of tchotchke storefronts catering to you-know-who.

Another friend lives at the foot of the High Line, where he often went to take in the sun, etc., but no longer but for the daily deluge of tourists. I too have abandoned my own favorite spot in Central Park for the very same reason: Strawberry Fields, the circus-like (John Lennon would be appalled) center of one of the city's central tourist corridors between Columbus Circle and the Museum of Natural History is now off limits to this senior man. Instead I plant my bottom on Central Park West adjacent to my block, where I watch the double-deckers roll by, one every several minutes, and where I'm asked "where's the Dakota" at least twice daily. Other New Yorkers must have similar stories.

My purpose here is to open a dialogue and to examine if we have cause for concern. NYC is already the number one tourist destination in the country, maybe the world; so do we really need to push for more? And is there really a way to ebb the tide at this point? I wonder if we're on our way to becoming the Venice of North America, a theme park by any other name, where tourists have choked the life's blood out of the city to generate still more of those tourist euros. And will New Yorkers, like Venetians, eventually leave to escape the constant onslaught?

All those benefiting from tourist dollars say "yes" to push for more; they worship their ever-expanding bottom line, while others like me will say the fight has already been lost. The flood gates have been opened and there's no stopping the tidal wave. NYC & Co. thinks only of increasing numbers, expanding still more sights-to-see (the planned worlds' largest Ferris wheel on the northern shoreline of Staten Island and more) but cares little about the quality of life for those who live nearby. Others too must bear the brunt of inflated prices for everything, enduring mounting resentment and growing congestion. By the end of 2015 we'll perhaps see 60 million here; and maybe 65 million by the end of 2016. Think about that.