The Bronx, Tourism, and Small Business
By Alexandra Maruri
Now more than ever, New York City is a global tourist destination. The city's tourism industry attracts over 52 million visitors from around the world each year, generating $55 billion in economic impact and accounting for over 360,000 jobs. Yet, while the industry has grown at an average rate of 4.1% per year, according to the Partnership for New York City’s NYC Jobs Blueprint, this increased activity hasn’t been felt in all parts of the city – least of all here in the Bronx. With a stagnant 11.8% unemployment rate – the highest in New York State – the Bronx stands to gain more from such economic activity than anywhere else.
Back in 2011, I started MCNY Tours to showcase the cultural and historical landmarks of my native Bronx and to bring in visitors to support our local small businesses. Two years later, my company has grown at a snail’s pace and I continue to struggle to attract visitors.
The Bronx faces a unique challenge in that it has a reputation for being dangerous and gang-ridden. As a result, tourists are often reluctant to even consider visiting the borough, even though those who do come have a very favorable experience and are pleasantly surprised by its beauty, diversity, and rich history. In fact, when I market my tours to hotels in the city, many clearly state that they would never send their guests to visit the Bronx – I am treated as if I have the bubonic plague. I knew this business was going to require a lot of work, but I didn’t realize just how difficult it would be and how limited the support would be from the city and its bustling tourism industry.
The city has embarked on various promotional campaigns that always seem to leave out the Bronx. For instance, NYC Restaurant Week doesn’t include a single restaurant in the borough. With all the buzz around the “Where’s Waldo in NYC?” initiative, I have yet to catch a glimpse of the beloved children’s book character in the Bronx. And the Neighborhood x Neighborhood project designed to drive visitors to lesser known areas of the city has yet to have any noticeable impact here. I appreciate the efforts of the current administration to promote the outer boroughs, but more can and must be done. This is a major opportunity for the mayor.
When they were running for office, our elected officials came to the Bronx to speak about immigration, homeless shelters, affordable housing, welfare, and ex-convict programs. But what about jobs? What about ways to support local residents who are trying to start, grow, and maintain their small businesses?
The city needs to have a working plan to create more jobs in the Bronx and support small businesses. After all, we are the backbone of the economy. Promoting the Bronx as a tourist destination to in turn drive local small business growth should be part of that plan.
The Bronx small business community needs and deserves action.