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Tourism officials want to bring the world to Long Island

John Soran and Favian Pinpon with wine tasters

John Soran and Favian Pinpon with wine tasters at an event at Crossroads Farm in Malverne on Oct. 4, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

G’day, Guten Tag and bonjour: International travelers are being courted by Long Island tourism officials.

Discover Long Island, the region’s official tourism agency, this month launched a marketing program to target travelers from Australia and Canada in a first-ever alliance with NYC & Company, its sister agency in New York City.

The idea is to present “Long Island as New York City’s beachfront backyard,” said Kristen Jarnagin, president and chief executive. “It seems like a no-brainer — Long Island partnering with New York City — but it’s literally never been done before.”

The agency, which is supported by a hotel tax in Nassau and Suffolk counties, also is hiring public relations firms in Germany and the United Kingdom to put Long Island on the itineraries of travelers from those countries.

Why go international? Foreign travelers account for about 7 percent of visitors to Long Island, according to an October 2016 survey commissioned by Discover Long Island. The majority of visitors — 64 percent — came from New York and other states in the Northeast.

But foreign visitors tend to have longer stays and spend more. For instance, in New York City foreigners accounted for about 20 percent of visitors in 2016, but were responsible for half of all the $42.3 billion in visitor spending in the city, according to NYC & Company.

Jarnagin said Discover Long Island decided to focus on the foreign markets of Canada, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom based on research from website traffic, New York State statistics, the cost of market penetration and other factors.

Tourist spending on Long Island totaled $5.6 billion, supporting 78,202 jobs directly and indirectly, according to a 2016 study by Tourism Economics.

Absent the $700 million in state and local taxes generated by tourism, the average Long Island household would have to pay an additional $745 per year to maintain the same level of service, according to the study.

New York City and Long Island regularly place first and second in traveler spending among the regions of New York State. The Hudson Valley placed a distant third with $3.5 billion for 2016.

Experts say that tourism has an increasingly prominent position in Long Island’s economy.

“It’s projected to grow, in terms of jobs, rapidly compared with other sectors of the Long Island economy over the next 10 years,” said John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group.

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes food services, entertainment and gambling, has risen to record levels, with 141,300 jobs in August, the highest for the month since at least 1990, when the state Labor Department began using its current methodology to track job growth.

And the sector accounts for a significantly greater share of Long Island’s job market, said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the department’s Hicksville office. Last year, leisure and hospitality accounted for 9.2 percent of total jobs on the Island, up from 7.1 percent in 1990, Patel said.

Some parts of the sector have been standouts. Between 2000 and 2016, employment at Long Island restaurants and bars grew by 35 percent, or 32,500 jobs. And in the same time period, the number of jobs at amusement, gambling and recreation businesses, which include golf courses, marinas and gyms, jumped by 34 percent, or 4,200 jobs, Patel said.

Adding to that growth was a “much stronger” March-to-July summer hiring season this year, she said. The local job market added 32,100 leisure and hospitality jobs during that time, up from the typical 23,200.

“Leisure and hospitality, which represents the largest share of employment in the travel and tourism industry, had a good year,” Patel said.

Still, Rizzo cautioned that the tourism industry is subject to ups and downs based on consumer attitudes about their financial well-being and that of the country.

“Tourism spending is discretionary spending,” he said. “This kind of spending is high when the economy is strong . . . General economic conditions have a big effect on tourism on Long Island.”

Politics also can intrude. In April, officials of NYC & Company predicted that President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, travel bans and rhetoric about illegal immigration would contribute to a revised forecast of 700,000 fewer foreign visitors to New York City in 2017 than previously projected.

Jarnagin, whose organization used to be known as the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau & Sports Commission, said she expects Long Island travel and leisure revenues in 2017 to increase by about 3 percent. That would be in line with the 3 percent increase from 2015 that brought Long Island tourism spending to $5.6 billion in 2016.

Still, some business owners and tourism officials described this year’s key summer tourist season as lackluster.

Rose Harvey, commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, cited wet conditions in May and June in explaining why she expects no bump when this summer’s attendance is compiled at Long Island’s 34 state parks, beaches, golf, campgrounds and historic sites.

Jones Beach, the region’s most popular state park, had 3.82 million visitors in the summer of 2016, the most recent data available.

Statistically, Long Island’s weather this summer, as measured at Islip, was slightly warmer and drier than average, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center. But because the summer of 2016 was even warmer and drier, “comparatively, this summer may have seemed cool and wet,” climatologist Jessica Spaccio said.

Though data were not available for Long Island’s charter fishing boats, Rick Etzel, president of the Montauk Boatmen & Captains Association, said business was mixed.

“In the harbor there was less business earlier in the year, but as summer went on, it did pick up,” he said.

Government quotas limiting the catch of certain fish was curtailing business, Etzel said: “Without enough fish, you’re not going to get people on the boats.”

Occupancy at Long Island hotels edged up to 81 percent in June from 80.8 percent a year earlier, and dipped to 81.6 percent in July compared with 83.3 percent in the year-earlier period, according to data from the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association.

For the year, occupancy is expected to decline 1.5 percent in 2017, according to data and analytics tracker STR, formerly known as Smith Travel Research. STR analyst Ali Hoyt attributed the expected dip to a slight increase in room supply and flat demand compared with 2016. Still, revenue per available room is projected to grow 0.6 percent, STR projected.

Meanwhile, home-sharing service Airbnb appeared to be growing.

Airbnb officials declined to provide comparative year-over-year data, but said their hosts on Long Island earned $22 million and hosted 50,000 guest arrivals from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For all of 2016, hosts earned $25 million and had 73,900 guests, the company said.

Long Island’s wine country — an area that officials hope will attract more international visitors — draws about 1.2 million visitors, said Richard Olsen-Harbich, a board member of the Long Island Wine Council and winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue. Most come from western Suffolk County, Nassau County, New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, he said.

“Tourism is very important,” said Juan Eduardo Micieli-Martinez, winemaker and general manager of Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, adding two-thirds of the vineyards sales are directly to consumers. “We need people to continue to discover the amazing great wines that we are producing here on the East End and the great farms that are producing produce.”

Richard Vogel, an economist and dean of Farmingdale State College’s business school, said Long Island has abundant tourism assets, but needs to get the message out.

Promotion can take many forms. One of Discover Long Island’s initiatives is an effort to get “American Ninja Warrior,” whose competitors must overcome a daunting obstacle course, to broadcast episodes from Long Island.

“Long Island has a lot of opportunity,” Vogel said. “There are some very good tourism sites and venues, but there needs to be more packaging and marketing.”

Jarnagin said that constraints on the supply of Long Island hotel rooms could be holding back the tourism industry’s expansion. STR estimates Long Island has 15,890 rooms in 200 hotels with independents accounting for 6,915 of those rooms. The researcher lists four new hotels in the planning stage and three under construction: Homewood Suites Ronkonkoma with 122 rooms; Residence Inn Long Island East End in Riverhead with 131 rooms, and Courtyard Long Island Central Islip with 125 rooms.

“In order to grow, we need to add the level of accommodation and number of rooms that our visitors are demanding and put more of a focus on year-round and business travel,” she said.

Aisha Al-Muslim, Daysi Calavia-Robertson, Carrie Mason-Draffen and James T. Madore contributed to this story.

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