As we all know, New York City was hit hard by the pandemic—in particular the travel and tourism industries. But what I don't think a lot of people know is how fast the city has bounced back with recent projections getting us nearly back to 2019 visitation numbers by later this year. It's truly incredible to see that kind of speed of recovery when we sit back and really think about what life was like in NYC back then. And while there are many amazing organizations that contributed to that rebound, there is one incredibly hard working group of people I think were at the forefront of spearheading the comeback, and that is the fine folks at New York City Tourism + Conventions. Formerly known as NYC & Company, the New York City Tourism + Conventions team spearheaded countless programs including Restaurant Week to Go, Broadway Week and so many more aimed to inspire people to come back and visit the city while under extraordinarily stressful circumstances. Their efforts proved highly successful.
As the pandemic has subsided, I felt the timing was right to dig a little into their playbook of marketing New York City so I sat down with their chief marketing officer Nancy Mammana. The conversation was both informative and inspiring.
Damian Bazadona: How would you describe the overall marketing strategy in how New York City Tourism + Conventions engages consumers and fosters a sense of connection with the city? There are a lot of places people can visit—why New York City?
Nancy Mammana: We strive to take a market and audience-specific approach to consumer targeting and engagement as much as possible, for both our leisure and business event strategies. There is so much depth and breadth to the NYC experience—unlike any other destination in the world. There is truly something for everyone here. That is a huge differentiator for us as a destination and a big part of the "Why NYC?" so we strive to utilize that wherever we can in both our content and distribution strategies. We strive to understand the interests and drivers from each target market and audience segment, as well as examine whether they're typically repeat or first-time visitors, and target the approach accordingly.
Obviously Covid has been a tremendous challenge for all travel and hospitality-centric brands. As the pandemic has subsided in the U.S., can you discuss the challenges the tourism board and its members have faced in re-engaging consumers and promoting the city as a tourist destination they need to return to?
When the pandemic began, NYC was the epicenter, as I'm sure you remember. So, after conducting a consumer insights study to understand any sentiment challenges, our first challenge back in 2021 was creating urgency, letting the world know that we were open, that we were still the NYC people knew and loved, and that it was time to visit NYC (hence our latest campaign tagline, "It's Time for New York City"). We were also very cognizant of the need to communicate our Covid safety and protocols. We undertook a concentric circle approach to our audience targeting like most destinations did at the time, focusing first on locals before anyone could travel, then the NE region and U.S. domestic, and then overseas markets as soon as they opened up that November. Now, it's more about keeping NYC top of mind as a destination of choice since there's a bit more competitiveness in the marketplace. We may still be considered but are not necessarily the automatic number one destination of choice for many markets, so we need to continually (re)educate the travel trade, where there was a tremendous amount of turnover during the pandemic, and remind prospective travelers of our product offering and all the diversity, culture and authentic experiences that can be found here, unlike any other destination in the world.
How does the New York City tourism board use research and insights to measure its marketing effectiveness?
We rely on our internal research team to deliver us the macro insights we need to understand what is happening in travel to NYC in general, for example in hotel occupancy, airlift, overarching trends, and economic conditions. They are also examining what is happening on a market-by-market basis in terms of currency fluctuations, political concerns and consumption habits of our top feeder markets. However, our marketing insights efforts led by our EVP of marketing and digital, Janette Roush, and our VP of digital and media, Carissa Parrish, are truly helping to take our marketing and media insights to the next level across all of our owned channels. We are continually testing and learning to understand the effectiveness of various creative iterations and outlets, and as part of our website update, we're building a first-party data strategy to better build and understand our audience and consumer journey, since the end is nigh with cookies. We, of course, examine our media effectiveness closely in terms of traffic, impressions and engagements, but the most exciting part is putting the art and the science of all our findings together to create a more well-rounded approach, and always continue to learn, refine and improve.
Have the measurements that typically matter most to you changed in a post-pandemic world?
Our most important metrics haven't changed post-pandemic, but they've certainly become more important. Of course, we look at the total amount of visitation for the city on an annual basis, but we also want to know how much tax revenue has been brought in and look at the total employment numbers in the tourism and hospitality industries as a key indicator. In addition, we are always striving to disperse the economic benefits of tourism throughout the five boroughs in an equitable manner, which was especially important as we came out of the pandemic.
We launched a multiphase survey with SMARI of our global tourism campaign to better understand the impact and ROI more directly there, measuring those who saw our campaign how many of them booked a trip and how much did they spend while here. We do not capture travel bookings on our site, so we get those results either through our travel partners who participate in the tourism campaign around the world or studies like this. Our 2021-222 domestic campaign brought in $352 in visitor spend for every $1 spent on the campaign, $5B in total visitor spend and 2MM trips to NYC between July 2021 and January 2022. Phase 1 of our international campaign, which brings in an even higher value visitor (international travelers are about 20 percent of our visitation but 50 percent of total spend), brought in $241 for every dollar spent, $822MM in visitor spending, and 346K trips between January and July 2022. The latest findings from Phase 2 of our international campaign are even more promising and we'll be sharing that soon.
Wow—seeing that kind of return from your marketing efforts must feel great. How has your content strategy evolved post-pandemic? I absolutely love the "local legends" content your team produces, which seems to bring people into communities across the city that don't sit squarely in the typical tourist spotlight. What was the inspiration behind that work? What else do you have cooking in the content category for storytelling of the city?
We have always celebrated the cultural diversity of our city in our content, however, with the hiring of our SVP of diversity initiatives and content, Rondel Holder, we have definitely doubled down on those efforts since the pandemic. We will continue our Local Legends series to complete all the boroughs, and after that will continue building our Black, Latin and Asian Experience content platforms, which highlight New Yorkers and small businesses throughout the five boroughs, sharing their perspective on some of our most vibrant and culturally rich neighborhoods. And, of course, coming up soon is the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop, so we're very excited to launch our content hub around that next month with guides, interviews, interactive maps and more, with a special spotlight on The Bronx.
I was a hip hop DJ many years ago (I won't give away my age) so I'm looking forward to the anniversary festivities! Looking ahead, what new strategies or initiatives is the tourism board considering to further engage consumers and promote tourism to the city?
We look forward to continuing the work we do every day, which is bringing in leisure and business event travelers and dispersing that visitation and equity throughout the five boroughs. We have fantastic content but our budgets are limited, so we will be focusing on building our revenue to ensure we have robust distribution plans to ensure that content gets seen by the right audiences, so that will be a big focus of ours moving forward. We'll be continuing our efforts domestically and internationally to encourage both bookings and exploration throughout the five boroughs, and as we wait for the return of China, continue diversifying our approach to focus where we're seeing great incremental growth in markets like Brazil, India and Australia. As mentioned earlier, we'll continue refining our digital strategy as we relaunch our website in May with better personalization and targeting to further fine-tune our understanding of the consumer journey in our digital ecosystem across social, our site and email channels.
As someone who sits at the center of working with so many incredible NYC iconic businesses and having just lived through helping them navigate a very challenging time, what's the one word you would use to best describe the character of New York City?
It may be an overused term at this point, but I have to say RESILIENCE. NYC has been through a lot over the years, from 9/11 to the pandemic, but we always come back better and stronger than before. You can't keep NYC down!