This winter, hordes of Irish tourists reportedly made the December trek to Gotham to do their Christmas shopping, see a few Broadway shows and visit their American relatives whose ancestors came here during the potato famine.
Does the decimated dollar really deserve credit for sparking New York City tourism, especially Broadway theatergoing?
The ultrapricey Waldorf-Astoria Hotel sees a definite impact.
“Travelers from Ireland are up 115%,” says hotel spokesman Matt Zolbe. That compares with a 50% uptick in European tourists in general over the past year.
The Waldorf concierge forwards theater ticket requests to Continental Guest Service, which sees a “broader acceptance by Europeans to spend more money on theater,” said CGS’ Alan Moore.
December 2004 “is the best month in theater we’ve seen in six or seven years,” added Moore.
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Other hotels have seen a less dramatic increase in international tourists, with the Marriott Marquis up 10% and the city’s five W Hotels up 5%-6%. That’s good, but none has achieved pre-9/11 levels.
NYC & Co.’s tourism numbers suggest the exchange rate may have had more success keeping Americans at home than luring foreigners here. Although 5.1 million international visitors came to Gotham in 2004, up from 4.8 million in 2003, that rate is off from the 6.8 million in 2000.
Domestic visitors have more than taken up the slack: Last year, 34.3 million Americans visited Gotham, compared with 29.4 million in 2000.
The Metropolitan Opera, with its foreign-language repertoire, is always an accurate barometer of overseas visitors. During the current season, 15% of single-ticket sales are to foreigners, compared with 10% after 9/11 and 18% before.
Another accurate indicator is Broadway Inbound, which provides theater tix to the travel industry. “December was a boom month,” said partner Bruck Amick.
But Amick countered the perception that everything was upbeat on Sept. 10, 2001. “Foreign tourism was petering out before that,” he said. “The dollar was strong, the international economy was weak.” Amick estimates international biz is still off 20% from early 2000.
Broadway set a record with its $22.06 million tally for the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 2. The Nederlanders’ Nick Scandalios had no hard figures on the surge in tourism or its effect on the theater. However, “the week before Christmas was much stronger than in previous years,” he pointed out.
The weekly wraps were also up, Scandalios said. “We started seeing $190,000, where we had been doing $110,000.”
Even harder to detect is how the weak dollar may affect legit profits and producing.
Disney’s foreign tours have struck gold of late with the stronger overseas currencies. “What’s coming back to us in pounds and euros is up about 30% from a year ago,” said Disney VP David Schrader. One possible cloud on the horizon: 15% of “Lion King” biz on the West End has come from Americans, who are scarce on the ground there these days.
Brit producer Bill Kenwright claimed the exchange rate “never enters my head,” even though he bankrolls his own shows, including this season’s Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” Since he’ll be paying thesps including Jessica Lange in U.S. dollars, Kenwright will have to spend fewer pounds. Right? “Oh yeah, that is true,” he said.
Boyett Ostar has an ongoing deal to bring the National Theater’s shows to Broadway. After “Democracy,” the org’s next is “The Pillowman” in April. “It hasn’t affected us. It may down the line,” Bob Boyett said of the weak dollar.
However, the exchange rate is a boon for at least one legit industry Stateside. “We were planning to build a few ‘Pillowman’ sets in London. It would be easier to duplicate,” said the producer. “But we haven’t been able to do that.”
According to Boyett, the exchange rate won’t affect his decision to cast the 2006 National transfer “The History Boys” with several Brit actors. (The producers went American with “Democracy” and “Pillowman,” but not “Jumpers,” which they cast British.)
It helps that the National/Boyett Ostar deal is in U.S. dollars. “Thank God,” Boyett said.
Sonia Friedman, producer of the West End’s “Woman in White,” comes to Gotham next week to tie up financial ends for the tuner’s upcoming Broadway incarnation. She thinks the weak dollar/strong pound will affect investors. “I’ll be able to give you a better idea next week,” Friedman said.
At least a Times Square hotel will cost her fewer pounds this trip. Broadway producers scouting properties and investors in London don’t have it so lucky. A year ago, their favorite Covent Garden Hotel cost $250 a night. Now, it’s closer to $500.
(Willa Paskin contributed to this report.)