NEW YORK, NY.-
When many readers in Toronto, London, Paris and Hong Kong open their newspapers Monday, they will be greeted with a full-page advertisement from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
We reopened in August 2020, but have been missing one critical thing you, our international visitors, the ad will say. The Met is only The Met when it is being enjoyed daily by visitors from around the world.
The unusual display museum officials say they do not believe they have ever run a global marketing campaign of this scope aimed at visitors so far from their Fifth Avenue home is a signal of the thirst among New York arts institutions for foreign visitors to return. U.S. borders reopened to international tourists this week for the first time since the early months of 2020. Their return represents another milestone in New Yorks reopening, and few sectors of the citys economy are more of a draw to foreign travelers or lean more heavily on them for revenue than the arts.
Its crucial that we recover this segment, said Chris Heywood, a vice president for global communications at the citys tourism agency, NYC & Co. Arts and culture are going to lead our recovery. That is the backbone.
Indeed, billions of dollars and many thousands of jobs are at stake. Employment in New York Citys arts, entertainment and recreation sector plummeted by 66% from December 2019 to December 2020, according to a state report. Even as things reopen and workers are hired back, challenges remain: The tourism agency forecasts that visitor spending in 2021 will be about $24 billion, roughly half of what was spent in 2019.
International visitors typically make up about one-fifth of the citys visitors, but they tend to stay longer and spend more than domestic visitors; what they spend accounts for roughly half of all tourism dollars.
On Broadway, tourists from outside the U.S. comprise about 15% of the audience during a traditional season, said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League. (There is a reason that the website of The Lion King is lined with flags indicating where to click for translations of its sales pitch in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Chinese and Spanish.)
The Metropolitan Opera said that international ticket sales have accounted for about 20% of total box office revenues during the past five seasons. And more than half of New Yorks international visitors go visit an art gallery or museum during their trip, according to data from NYC & Co. One in four go to some kind of live performance when they are in the city be it a concert, play, musical, dance performance or opera.
So New York has been missing them.
This is a big step forward, said Victoria Bailey, executive director of Theater Development Fund, the nonprofit organization that operates the TKTS booth, where about 70% of the tickets are bought by tourists and roughly half of those sales are to foreign travelers.
Groups catering to tourists from overseas are gearing up. Broadway Inbound, a subsidiary of the Shubert Organization that is responsible for the wholesale distribution of show tickets, recently restarted a marketing program that helps highlight more than 20 partnering shows to group buyers, tour operators and the travel industry.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has moved some of its marketing dollars overseas in part because it has hit something of a ceiling on attendance, Ken Weine, a spokesperson for the museum, said. Before the pandemic, international travelers accounted for about one-third of the museums visitors; these days, the number of people who come to the museum daily is about half of what it was before March 2020.
Musicals like The Phantom of the Opera, which have leveraged the interest of tourists who want to see a long-running show that they are familiar with, have purposefully invested advertising dollars during this holiday season and placed their displays in high-traffic, touristy areas. That is why there is an imposing 3D statue of the Phantoms mask strategically plopped next to the TKTS booth and outdoor advertising for Chicago all over Times Square.
Foreign travelers have not yet begun buying tickets to Phantom in material numbers, said Aaron Lustbader, the general manager of the show. But officials hope that will change soon.
Typically, January and February are two of the very weakest months of the year, and this has certainly been true for Phantom, he said. Our hope is that due to pent-up demand of nearly two years, and assuming it would take most people at least a few weeks to put together plans, that the city sees a far higher number of international tourists in these otherwise lean months.
Barry Weissler, a producer of Chicago, said the show typically partners with online travel sites to serve ads and try to spark the interest of inbound, foreign tourists before their flights to New York.
And for their part, tour operators and ticket vendors overseas say they have started to see their New York business bounce back somewhat.
Eric Lang, who runs an Amsterdam-based travel and information website that helps vacationers plan trips to New York, said his ticket sales in October were up to about 5% of normal. This month, sales are closer to 15-20% of what he had come to expect for this period, before the pandemic. Growth from zero, he said.
Lee Burns, a product manager for AttractionTickets.com, which sells event tickets to people and travel agents in the United Kingdom, said he thought the timing of the U.S. reopening might have come a bit too late to capitalize on the 2021 holiday season. So far, he said, his companys New York sales are at only about 10% of what is normal for the holiday season.
People are booking now for next Thanksgiving and next Christmas, he said. Nonetheless, he said he and his team are trying to figure out if there is any sort of deal they can offer for this Black Friday.
Those who come to New York from overseas will need to navigate and adhere to the rules and vaccine requirements set by the state, the city and individual venues.
They will find that many venues and presenters including Broadway theaters, the Met Opera, the New York Philharmonic, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall will admit travelers who show proof of having received one of the vaccines approved by the World Health Organization, a list that includes AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Sinovac, vaccines that have not been authorized for use in the U.S.
To help theatergoers prepare for their visit to Come From Away, the show recently released a health and safety video outlining what patrons should expect when they show up at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. An official with Broadway Inbound said it had touched base with the creators of the video to help ensure it would be educational to both domestic and foreign visitors.
Heywood, meantime, had a plea for New Yorkers already here. Be nice to tourists, he said. This is important.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times