For suburbs of NYC, challenge is to lure tourists

Associated Press Modified: August 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm •  Published: August 18, 2012
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WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — The Empire State Building casts a long shadow.

Suburbs in the metropolitan area are stepping up efforts to attract tourist dollars, but they have to deal with the proximity of New York City, the country's biggest magnet for visitors and their money.

"We're definitely in the position of looking to steal some of the crumbs," said Kristen Matejka of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.

New York City's tourism industry brought in $32 billion and supported about 320,000 jobs last year, when more than 50 million people visited Gotham.

In contrast, neighboring Westchester County says tourism was worth $1.7 billion. Long Island counted $4.8 billion.

So how do the island and the Hudson Valley compete with the city that doesn't sleep?

They don't.

"New York City is a major draw, like a London, a Las Vegas, an Orlando," said Natasha Caputo, Westchester's tourism director. "We're not competing with Orlando.

"What we try to show is we're an extension of New York City, enhancing that New York state of mind," she said.

There's no Broadway or Museum of Modern Art or Yankee Stadium, but there are highly regarded community theaters, regional museums and minor league baseball. The suburbs can also brag that they have a few things the city doesn't.

"New York doesn't have the specific ocean beaches we have," Matejka said. It also can't offer Halloween celebrations focused on the Sleepy Hollow legend in Westchester. And it doesn't have the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, which attracted about 211,000 visitors last year.

But rare is the visitor who comes from Texas or Timbuktu just to see the Hamptons, the Headless Horseman or the Long Gray Line.

"I would be hard-pressed to think anyone is making a special trip to this area from a distance just to see West Point unless they're an old West Pointer or they have a military background," said John Schieneman, who operates West Point Tours under an Army contract.

So tourist agencies do their best to take advantage of New York City's draw. They also narrow their marketing area, in general, to a few hundred miles.

Dave and Deb Maciewicz are in that target zone. They were visiting West Point this month from their home in Barneveld, N.Y., about 200 miles away.

"We love the Hudson Valley," said Dave Maciewicz, 63, a controller at a nonprofit agency. They've been to West Point a couple of times, to the Franklin D. Roosevelt homestead in Hyde Park and the nearby Culinary Institute of America.

But they also love Christmas in New York City, the Bronx Zoo and the racetrack at Saratoga, said Deb Maciewicz, 58, a registered nurse.

Not all the visitors live within driving distance.

Feeding the big numbers at West Point is a huge influx of Chinese tourists on East Coast bus trips. On the day the Maciewiczes visited, 21 buses arrived for tours, most while traveling from New York to Boston. Guides speaking Mandarin and Cantonese were available and the tourists bought T-shirts at the gift shop and posed for photos with cadets.

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