Long Island's tourism industry is poised to have a banner year in 2023 because of the anticipated rebound of business and international travel, which has been in a slump since the coronavirus struck nearly three years ago, officials said.
Leisure travel has come roaring back, leading Discover Long Island, the region's tourism promotions agency, to predict spending by vacationers this year will meet — and possibly exceed — the pre-pandemic level of $6.3 billion.
Hotels, museums, restaurants, stores and other attractions were hit hard by New York State’s monthslong shutdown of the economy in 2020 to slow COVID-19's spread. And even after the phased reopening, the travel sector remained depressed as potential tourists were afraid of the surge in new variants of the virus last year.
Tourist spending on the Island dropped from $6.3 billion in 2019 to $3.9 billion in 2020 and then rose to $5.8 billion in 2021, according to the most recent data from the research firm Tourism Economics in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
“Business travel and international travel is going to come back swiftly and much faster than anticipated,” said Kristen Reynolds, Discover Long Island's president and CEO. She said earlier predictions were that business people and overseas travelers wouldn't return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 or 2025.
Reynolds, citing data from several research firms, said more than 66,500 jobs on Long Island are tied to tourism and $790 million in state and local sales taxes are collected on visitor purchases. The typical tourist spends the most on transportation, 31% of expenditures; food, 23%; and hotels, 19.2%.
Vacationers "spend so much and it really does impact our entire economy,” she told about 80 people who attended Discover Long Island's annual meeting at Bijou Restaurant in Melville on Wednesday night.
Reynolds reported on her group's latest marketing efforts via videos on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube; a weekly podcast; and a “long-haul tourism” campaign to boost the number of visitors from the Phoenix-Scottsdale area of Arizona.
She said Arizonans are a prime market because 74% of them stay in a hotel for at least two nights while visiting Nassau and Suffolk counties. They also spend 38% more on food than the typical visitor and 17% more in retail stores, according to recent data.
Of total tourist visits to Long Island, those from the Phoenix-Scottsdale area hit a high of 16% this spring. The previous record was 8.5% last year, before the Discover Long Island campaign began, she said.
Executives of tourist attractions endorsed Reynolds' optimistic outlook.
Bryan DeLuca, executive director of the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, said, “Our industry was annihilated for a period of time … [and] I’m proud to say that tourism has returned in full force.”
Nancy Costopulos, who took over as Discover Long Island's board chair on Wednesday from DeLuca, agreed, saying, “There couldn’t be a more exciting time ... We are all thriving.” Costopulos also serves as president and CEO of Old Westbury Gardens.