Kate Davids of FACE’s New York office analyses the city tourism board’s latest campaign
Right now, New York City is encouraging New Yorkers to play tourist in their own city. The NYC & Company ‘See Your City’ campaign is positioning a selection of neighborhoods in each borough as a tourism destination for locals in an effort to get local New Yorkers to explore more (and spend more) in different parts of the city.
While I do think there is no city better to play tourist in, I don’t think it is quite that easy.
Of course, New Yorkers do love to explore their city. Anyone who lives in New York will tell you there is a constant search for a new bar, restaurant, shop or show. Everyone likes to discover something new. But is this tourism? I don’t think so, and I think that positioning this push for locals to explore New York as tourism is not the best way to encourage local New Yorkers to travel to Staten Island.
In this blog post I’ll explore why – and try to imagine what the NYC & Co. ‘See Your City’ campaign could have done differently.
What’s the motivation to do ‘tourist’ things, anyway?
Whether it is standing on line, paying higher prices, or just taking time out to go gawk at the sites, playing tourist requires effort and it’s something we have to decide to do.
Being a tourist, of course, means more than just going to look at a monument. Being a tourist usually means traveling, which has a whole host of benefits for the traveler. This Quora thread lists off quite a few of them, but a few themes seem to emerge from the user responses:
- It is an escape: A tourist has the opportunity to distance herself from her everyday life. This provides an opportunity for the traveler to re-center herself, figure out what’s important, who she is. It’s almost existential, in a way.
- It displays other ways of life: Whether that is seeing how New Yorkers bustle everywhere or how residents of Phoenix, AZ enjoy a good saunter through a mall, , travel helps tourists broaden their outlooks and see the world from another point of view. Some say it is about feeling more connected to the rest of humanity, seeing what we have in common. To others it’s about seeing our differences within the rich patchwork of sensorial experiences the world has to offer.
- It is exciting: Who can deny that travel keeps you on your toes? A tourist becomes more aware of what is going on around her. She can’t just float along when in a strange place, she has to keep her eyes and ears open. It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush!
Why do locals not do the things tourists do?
The NYC & Co. ‘See Your City’ campaign, of course, is not asking tourists to visit these neighborhoods. It’s asking New York locals to be tourists in their own city. Which makes me wonder, why aren’t locals already doing touristy things in their cities?
I turned my Facebook friends into a bit of a focus group, asking them, “Why do locals not do the things tourists do – even when they are cool? Sometimes it seems that tourists see more of our cities than the locals do! Why is that?” My friends live in a variety of places, from Phoenix to New York. Here’s what they had to say:
“Because you can do it at any time, why make a special trip out of it? Also, many of things that we think of tourists doing become so familiar that we feel we do them anyway (like passing the ruins in downtown phoenix), we live with them everyday anyway.” – Joe D.
“I definitely think that tourists do things that are cool, but, frankly, when will we do them? In addition, a lot of “attractions” are overpriced, I would rather not do it here, and do it another location.” – Stephanie R.
“Tourists plan everything around seeing these things, but when you live somewhere it’s easy to say “I’ll get around to it” and then you find yourself moving and realize all the things you missed. But how important are those things really?” – Michelle W.
So, from time limitations to over-familiarity, locals seem to have a different point of view of their cities’ attractions. Granted, the NYC & Company campaign is promoting destinations not typically associated with tourists – most tourists don’t even make it to Staten Island – but these two themes are still relevant. Locals are busy living their lives, which means they have less time to explore out of the way neighborhoods, often putting such places on the back burner until some “later time.” That, surely, is the barrier that a ‘locals’ travel campaign would need to tackle.
“See Your City” doesn’t address why locals aren’t doing these things already
Take a look at the campaign microsite. Sure, they call Van Cortlandt Park “where savvy New Yorkers escape,” but for the most part, it reads like what it is – a travel guide. It makes the destinations feel exciting, interesting, and like an escape, hitting all those high notes that tourists love about travel. I don’t know if this type of presentation will make these destinations feel like an exciting escape to a local New Yorker, but it is clear that the campaign is trying.
It’s not hard to see why a foodie like me really wants to go to Arthur Avenue, but finding the time to do so is another matter. (https://flic.kr/p/4fD6h9)
But, it doesn’t respond to why New Yorkers aren’t doing these things already. I’ve known about Arthur Avenue (the Bronx’s Little Italy) and the Staten Island Greenbelt for years, but I still haven’t gone, and while this campaign is reminding me of why I do want to go to these locations, I don’t know if it is motivating me to finally get on a train and go. Procrastination and an already busy life are still barriers to exploration, and the campaign isn’t dealing with them.
I’ve also been through Dumbo and Hell’s Kitchen before, though I haven’t explored them in the way this campaign suggests I do. As my Facebook friend Joe D. said, I am familiar enough with the areas that I feel I’ve done the exploration already, even though I haven’t gone into the churches or visited the bakeries. Those neighborhoods are part of the backdrop of my life. I don’t know if they are worth a special trip for me.
But New Yorkers do love to explore their city…
….The campaign just needs to give us the tools and some incentive to go.
Whether it’s checking out a list of cool restaurants in Time Out or signing up for a walking tour (which local New Yorkers love to do, by the way), New Yorkers love to explore, try new things, and generally get out. Our city is always changing around us, and, frankly, our apartments tend to be tiny and cramped, adding extra incentive to get out of the house.
Like this Urban Oyster Tour group on a Brownstone Brooklyn tour. Their tours are designed specifically for locals. (http://skift.com/2014/11/11/walking-tours-turn-locals-into-tourists-in-new-york-city/)
So this campaign has great potential. Tapping into the audience of local New Yorkers is a great move, but rather than focusing on how “For the world, it’s the trip of a lifetime. For you, it’s a subway ride away”, focus instead on helping New Yorkers overcome the barriers to being a “local tourist.”
We know we live in a great city, and the desire to see it is there. We just need some tools to get us started. Here are a few ideas for how this campaign can address the barriers of local tourism:
- Partner with some local walking tour companies to make exploring a neighborhood feel more manageable, less like an all-day activity and more like a fun weekend afternoon?
- Help New Yorkers see familiar neighborhoods as more interesting by talking about the hidden secrets and histories of the areas. We love finding hidden things!
- Highlight local events and festivals to help us find a reason to go out to those neighborhoods now rather than later. We hate missing a party, and once you get us to go once, you can probably get us to come back to try that cute restaurant on the corner we saw but didn’t have a chance to try.
- Suggest itineraries and other tools to help make “playing tourist” feel less daunting and time consuming. The easier it is, the more likely people will do it, after all.
- Focus on the new and the changing. Perhaps give each neighborhood a specific page with updates on new restaurants or galleries. This could work particularly well for trendy locales like Long Island City or neighborhoods that are changing quickly, like Harlem.
- Suggest occasions, helping get around that procrastination barrier. Rather than listing off all the bars in Hell’s Kitchen, how about give us a list of top Happy Hours for the after work crowd?
At the moment the campaign suggests locations and makes them sound interesting and fun, but to really be the success I think it could be, it needs to give New Yorkers tools like these to make being a tourist in our own city easier and more interesting, overcoming the barriers we currently face.
If you would like to find out how Kate can help you achieve a great campaign, or you’d just like more insightful tips on exploring New York City, send her an email: Kate.Davids@facegroup.com