Big Apple has big plans to eclipse 2012's record tourism numbers

Mike Coppola / Today
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, center, celebrates New Year's Eve 2013 In Times Square with the Rockettes. Earlier in the day, Bloomberg announced that a record 52 million tourists visited the Big Apple in 2012.

Frank Sinatra famously yearned to wake up in the city that never sleeps and it seems more travelers than ever want to follow in his footsteps.

New York attracted a record number of tourists in 2012, prompting officials to vow to keep the momentum going.

“(I’m) confident that 2013 will be another mammoth year for tourism in our city,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was surrounded by the Rockettes during a news conference at the American Museum of Natural History on New Year’s Eve.

“Tourism is booming because we’re the nation’s most exciting city and during 2013, we’re going to keep adding to the parks and cultural institutions that bring millions of people here every year.”

Here are the statistics that are making officials smile: New York City welcomed 52 million visitors in 2012 -- the most ever, despite the impact of Hurricane Sandy. They resulted in a $55 billion impact to the city’s economy and led to the Big Apple selling a record 29 million hotel room nights. The city’s hotel occupancy stands at 87 percent, the highest in the nation, the mayor said.

The sightseers included 41 million tourists from within the United States and 11 million from abroad.

Those international visitors are crucial because they spend far more money than domestic tourists, Bloomberg said. Luring them to the Big Apple and getting them to stay longer has been a primary focus of marketing efforts, added George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company. The city’s official tourism agency has 18 offices around the world to spread the word that New York is the place to be.

Their work has paid off. Of all the overseas visitors who arrive in the United States, one third now come to New York City. Emerging markets such as Brazil, China, Argentina and Australia, have been particularly big, growing 447 percent, 442 percent, 258 percent, 157 percent respectively since 2006, the mayor’s office announced.

Tourism officials “will continue to be relentless” in trying to attract international visitors, Fertitta said. It’s not hard to do with all of the shopping, the Broadway plays and the famous sights that New York offers. But another important part of the city’s allure is its vibe as an “aspirational destination.”

“We always like to say it’s sort of a rite of passage for people to come to New York,” said Chris Heywood, a spokesman for NYC & Company. “They see it in pop culture and they have a connection to it.”

If you’re pondering a visit to New York, here is a taste some of the events coming up this year:

Grand Central Terminal Centennial
One of New York City’s most iconic buildings celebrates its 100th anniversary with a yearlong celebration that kicks off on February 1 with a rededication of the terminal. The event will include performances, celebrity appearances and the opening of the New York Transit Museum’s “Grand By Design” multi-media installation. In May, historic trains come back to the terminal during the Grand Centennial Parade of Trains.

New York-themed cruise ship
Launching in late spring, the Norwegian Breakaway will be the largest ship to homeport in New York City year-round. The Rockettes, who will christen the ship on May 8, will also serve as the “godmothers” of the Breakaway and two of the dancers will sail on select cruises to meet and greet passengers.

The on-board entertainment includes a “New York-Inspired Ice Bar,” which will feature ice sculptures of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building.

Norwegian commissioned artist Peter Max to paint the hull artwork, which includes images of Lady Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.

“The Big Apple is known for its love of art and its many galleries – and now, Norwegian Breakaway becomes a floating piece of art that will cruise in and dock every Saturday on New York’s West Side,” said Kevin Sheehan, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, in a statement.

New York City bike share
Citi Bike launches in May, providing visitors with a new way to get around the big Apple. You can pick up one of 10,000 bicycles at any of the 600 solar-powered docking stations and ride to a drop-off near your destination. Smartphone apps will allow users to find out about bike and station availability in real-time.

“There’s just so much to do and see here and the beauty about New York is that it continually evolves and reinvents itself,” Heywood said.