By Ross D. Levi, Empire State Development Vice President and Executive Director, NYS Division of Tourism / I LOVE NY
Ross Levi speaking at the Museum Association of New York 2023 annual conference in Syracuse, New York. Photo by Daylight Blue Media.
It was great to be with so many members of New York’s museum community earlier this spring at the MANY Annual Conference in Syracuse. Museums continue to be such a vital part of the state’s tourism ecosystem, and I LOVE NY works hard through our programs, initiatives, and enhancements to inspire travel domestically and internationally to our museums and other cultural attractions.
For the past several years, we’ve worked to bounce back from the global pandemic’s impact and move forward promoting our great state. New York State welcomed 220 million visitors in 2021 who contributed more than $52 billion in direct spending. That’s nearly an $18 billion increase in visitor spending over the prior year, and a recovery to about 71% of 2019 levels. Across New York, tourism is improving from the record lows during COVID shutdowns of 2020, even if it has not yet rebounded to pre-pandemic record highs.
New York State tourism generated close to $7.5 billion in state and local taxes in 2021, saving each household an average of $1,010 in taxes. This number is down only a couple hundred dollars from 2019's record highs and shows just how important the tourism industry is to New Yorkers. Tourism remains the state’s third-largest private sector employer, supporting 850,041 jobs in 2022 – literally 1 in 10 of all jobs in New York.
As the official destination marketing organization for New York State, the Division of Tourism at Empire State Development works to keep that momentum going. Under the leadership of Governor Kathy Hochul and with the support of our legislative partners, we promote travel to New York State through marketing, product development and program initiatives under the iconic I LOVE NY logo. Our program is multi-faceted with several departments working in sync to create the global awareness of everything our great state has to offer.
The evidence shows that I LOVE NY’s consumer marketing approach has been successful in the past. So, even while emerging from COVID, we did not need to drastically revamp our strategy, and instead continue to aggressively spread the word about New York as an amazing travel destination. We started our seasonal campaigns sooner and ran multiple executions to reach a wider audience and feature more great examples of New York State tourism attractions. We created assets and content that make it easier for travelers to research and plan a getaway, from our paid advertising to our digital program, public relations, experiential events and tourism segments.
We execute paid seasonal advertising through TV, radio, print, digital and out-of-home, featuring destinations, attractions, and experiences across the state for the summer, fall and winter travel seasons.
Our digital footprint is one of the strongest in the nation among destination marketing organizations. Our website - iloveny.com - is the hub for all aspects of planning a New York State vacation and has seen 60% year-over-year traffic growth driven by advertising and organic search, bolstered by robust original editorial content. We have a combined presence of over two million followers on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. Content features top destinations, hidden gems and activity compilations statewide.
We continue to pitch destinations and host press trips with travel media to keep New York State top of mind. We hosted over 30 individual press trips since May 2022 and engaged journalists with authentic human-interest angles - BIPOC, LGBTQ and female storytellers who are creating news and amplifying the New York story. I LOVE NY media events held multiple times a year showcase seasonal attractions and activities. Last year, we hosted over 100 travel journalists at our events. We continue to see coverage in top outlets such as US News & World Report, Thrillist, CNN Travel, and Conde Nast Traveler.
This summer’s new 2023 I LOVE NY experiential marketing tour will build on last year's successful campaign, highlighting New York State destinations at festivals and special events. The tour ran from June to September covering 45 activation days at over 12 events across the state. We collected over 10,000 unique leads across 40 zip codes – even averaging four countries per event.
Ross Levi speaking during the I LOVE NY 2022 Summer Media Night at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.
I LOVE NY Black Travel Initiative
Our segment tourism programs are pillars within the I LOVE NY program. New this year, the I LOVE NY Black travel initiative was announced by Governor Hochul this past February. The goal is to grow New York State tourism and encourage visitation, recognizing that Black travelers represent more than 13% of the domestic leisure travel market and spend over $109 billion annually. In a survey of Black travelers, 64% reported that the availability of Black culture and heritage attractions is important when making a destination choice. Another survey reported that diversity in marketing is a top factor when choosing a travel destination, with 54% of U.S. Black travelers more likely to visit a destination with Black representation in advertising.
The Black tourism initiative is the latest in our segment tourism programs. It’s been nine years since we launched the I LOVE NY LGBTQ program. Last year, we participated in Pride events in Buffalo, Albany, Rochester, Harlem, New York City, Fire Island and Syracuse, supported by a marketing campaign encouraging visitation to those LGBTQ events across the state.
Governor Hochul's announcement of the I LOVE NY Black Travel program at the Alvin Alley Theater, NYC.
New York was also one of the first states in the nation with an accessible tourism program. We launched Accessible NY in July 2020 to promote destinations that offer accessibility features covering a range of needs including mobility, cognitive, hearing and visual. We were able to assemble listings from over 145 attractions that identify potential areas of accessibility that travelers are looking for when making travel plans, which are now featured on iloveny.com.
Path Through History
Path Through History is New York’s heritage tourism program with 14 distinct themes that come alive at attractions all across New York State. Twice a year, those attractions host special events from reenactments to artistic performances during Path Through History Weekends, confirmed this year for June 17-19 and October 7-9. Museums, historical attractions and sites can submit Path Through History events for consideration on the iloveny.com website.
Lockport Lock in Lockport, NY a Path Through History Location
International Travel Trade Program
I LOVE NY’s international travel trade program is responsible for sales efforts, marketing, and public relations efforts, encouraging global travelers to spend more time exploring the extensive range of visitor experiences across New York’s 11 travel regions. We have signed three new agencies to serve as our I LOVE NY offices in Australia, United Kingdom, and Germany, and retained our Canadian representation. We attend major international travel show and continue to promote the state with international tour operators and the travel trade.
We have recently added the domestic travel trade as an I LOVE NY focus, doing sales outreach, attending trade shows and hosting familiarization tours for tour operators and event producers in the meetings, conferences, exhibition, group travel and amateur sport spaces.
Market New York Grant Program
We know at I LOVE NY that in order to keep New York tourism strong, we need a strong tourism industry. For example, we work to support our local and regional tourism partners with grant opportunities. Market New York supports regionally themed marketing projects that promote tourism destinations, attractions, and special events, as well as tourism facility capital improvement projects. It has an annual cycle where in recent years $15 million in matching funds has been available to not-for-profit corporations, municipalities, tourism promotional agencies, public benefit corporations and for-profit companies. In 2022, nearly 70 projects were awarded matching grants for tourism marketing and capital projects.
The new round of Market New York is now open, and I encourage the museum community to apply for funding for projects like marketing campaigns, creating or bringing a new exhibition to the state or even new construction or renovation needs. Information on Market New York is available at esd.ny.gov, and there is also an informational webinar on June 14. Anyone interested can register here.
COVID-19 Relief Programs
We have also managed two COVID-19 Relief Programs which are soon coming to an end. The first, Return-to-Work, supports employment growth by providing financial assistance to businesses in the tourism industry that added new jobs. The second, Meet in New York, helps underwrite discounts on meeting space provided by convention centers and event venues, and on blocks of hotel rooms offered in conection with events. The last date for applications for both programs is June 30, 2023, though qualifying special events can take place as late as Decemeber 2025. Go to esd.ny.gov for more information and see if your organization qualifies.
We also work to support the state’s tourism industry through educational programming. This year we hosted webinars on preparing for the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse and tourism connected to the Underground Railroad in New York State, as well as an all-day workshop on the state of international tourism. We plan on hosting additional educational programs in the upcoming months. If you’d like to be added to our industry list to hear about these opportunities, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also recognize how important workforce development is to the health of our industry. I LOVE NY partnered with the New York State Department of Labor to host another year of free, tourism specific virtual job fairs, the most recent preparing for the upcoming summer season. Businesses and non-profit institutions have expressed their positive feedback for this opportunity to reach potential employees. If you’d like to participate in a future job fair, please contact email@example.com.
Finally, we also serve our role as the state’s tourism office by developing public policy that helps make New York State more hospitable for tourism. We stay connected to a myriad of sister state agencies to coordinate messaging and programming, including the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, New York State Council for the Arts, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Agriculture and Markets, Olympic Regional Development Authority and Canal Corporation.
I LOVE NY is very appreciative of what our state’s unparalleled museum community does to provide engaging, memory-making experiences for travelers. We seek to support you in bringing more people to experience all you have to offer, and welcome your assistance in helping us help you.
Please keep us informed of your latest developments so we can amplify them through our promotional channels by staying in touch with your county Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA).
Work with the TPA to make sure you have an updated listing in the iloveny.com database, including current photos. This allows us to include you in our website, mobile app, travel guide and other collateral.
Let us know about your accessible information by filling out our accessibility survey. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Keep us informed of your PR efforts by sending releases and imagery to email@example.com, which will highlight your news in our online press room and other I LOVE NY digital assets.
Connect with your Regional Economic Development Council so they know the importance of museums in keeping communities strong, including the economic benefit they bring by attracting travelers.
Engage with I LOVE NY social media posts.
Host a Path Through History Weekend event or even become a Path Through History attraction.
Apply for the Market New York and other applicable funding programs.
Attend I LOVE NY educational webinars or host a free virtual booth at I LOVE NY job fairs.
Lastly, cross-pollinate and promote across regions. Connect with hotels, restaurants and other attractions to further spread the word about what awaits visitors to your area.
We look forward to continuing our partnership with MANY and our state’s museum community to expand our mutual success and help museum lovers find more of what they love here in New York State.