It was snowing, but in Manhattan’s Union Square there was sun, a blonde in a bikini, a beach ball, a sandcastle. Someone was even fly fishing.
The scene was no mirage conjured up by winter-weary locals.
Instead, the sand and virtual fishing were all part of a weeklong promotional effort by tourism officials from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who were hoping that a glimpse of paradise might remind New Yorkers of exactly what they’re missing.
Fort Lauderdale is one of many destinations worldwide trying to win tourism dollars by luring New Yorkers away from the rat race. A sizable pot of money is at stake because of the sheer number of affluent travelers in this city of 8 million people.
“There are many highly educated people here making a good deal of money,” said Lalia Rach, associate dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University. “This is the population that has the money and has the desire to go places.”
With three airports — and a fourth poised to join the group — offering a growing roster of direct and discounted flights, New Yorkers have the world at their doorstep.
Of the more than 28 million Americans who traveled overseas in 2005, 15 percent were New York City residents and 29 percent were from the Middle Atlantic region that includes New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. No other city or region outpaced them.
Nearly a quarter of the nation’s departing overseas flights in 2005 left from the metro region’s three airports.
While many campaigns target the metro region specifically, it is unclear exactly how much money is at stake, says Cathy Keefe, manager of media relations for the Travel Industry Association of America.
“It’s probably one of the top feeder markets for a variety of destinations,” she said. “You can’t ignore it.”
One thing is for certain: Tourist spots are spending millions of dollars on capturing the eye of New Yorkers.
Currently, nearly one in 10 of the city’s subway cars are plastered with ads telling New Yorkers they need a “Bahamavention” to rescue them from the stress — and pallor — of their workaday lives. Other nations including Antigua, Brazil and Morocco are aggressively courting New Yorkers, as are states such as Maine.
Last year, riders on the Times Square Shuttle line were surrounded on all sides by a Budapest streetscape covering the walls of the cars, in a campaign meant to advertise Delta Air Lines.
Many destinations and airlines buy space on the subways, said Roco Krsulic, who approves advertising for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Frequently, he said, the underlying message of such advertising is, simply, “don’t you wish you weren’t here?”
That message is not a particularly hard sell for New Yorkers, who are notoriously overworked (though not notoriously underpaid). More than one-quarter of the metro region’s 6.7 million households makes more than $100,000 per year, according to a 2005 Census Bureau report. Nationwide, less than one-sixth of households make as much.
“It’s a go-fast mentality in New York. People like to decompress,” said John Golicz, chief executive and founder of the Adventures In Travel Expo, which draws tens of thousands of people each year. “There’s moments where it looks pretty good on the other side.”
And the setting can make for particularly effective advertising, especially in the winter, said Rosemary Abendroth, the global communications director for the Minneapolis-based Fallon advertising agency.
“New York is just as dreary as any northern place,” said Abendroth, whose agency handled the Bahamas subway campaign.
Indeed, the city is “probably the No. 1 source market for business to most Caribbean islands,” says Peter Warren, Chairman and CEO of Warren Kremer Paino LLC advertising agency, which has handled nationwide campaigns for a number of vacation spots.
Many destinations inside the U.S. find New York to be equally valuable. Fort Lauderdale, which spent about $200,000 to create its faux beach scene in a temporary storefront last month, relies on the New York metro region for nearly a third of its 10.4 million visitors — more than any other out-of-state area, said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“For any destination internationally, New York City is a major market,” said Rach. “Any major new resort that opens, they’re going to immediately include in their budgeting a very concerted effort in the New York market.”
Attracting a New Yorker to a destination is believed to be more valuable than attracting residents from elsewhere, Rach said.
“New Yorkers are trendsetters,” she said, adding that word-of-mouth recommendations seem to have a stronger hold here than in other regions.
Surprisingly, one of the destinations most interested in grabbing the attention of New York area residents may be ... New York.
Warren, the advertising executive, says that while representing hotels in the city, his agency has focused on residents from the nearby suburbs, who seem to come in droves.
“The No. 1 weekend traveler is local,” he said.