The Staten Island Ferry is among the top attractions that visitors to New York City want to experience and with that in mind, Staten Island should be flooded with tourists daily.
But that hasn’t been the case. Due in large part to tour operators telling visitors that there’s “nothing to see” on our side of the boat (we have actually heard them say this when they drop passengers at the Whitehall Terminal), traditionally only small numbers of tourists have gotten off the boat and explored the Island on their own.
That’s changing. Ever since the announcement of the renaissance of the North Shore Corridor sparked by the construction of the NY Wheel, Empire Outlets, Lighthouse Point and Urby, there’s a renewed interest on Staten Island. Seriously.
I would not have believed it myself, but I’ve had the privilege of representing Staten Island at several events focused on tourism and one event for journalists who write exclusively about tourism and hot destinations. People there literally pulled on my arm and asked to talk with me about the Island – I was stunned. We are the new frontier, folks, and we need to put our best foot forward.
The good news is that that’s happening. With the support of NYC & Co., the city’s tourism bureau, the island’s attractions and cultural organizations have gotten a crash course in all things tourism in the last year from experts who live it every day, from selling themselves to tour operators to marketing materials and best practices. That’s important because if you wait for the crowds to come to your doorstep, it’s too late.
With this in mind, our office is working extremely closely with NYC & Co., the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and an active group of culturals and attractions who are genuinely interested – and working hard – to get it right. To this end, we are working on educating each other, information sharing, finding funding, marketing and hosting tours for tour operators and journalists whose efforts will drive tourists to our shores. In fact, I’ve had several travel professionals tell me how impressed they are with Staten Island’s mobilization.
We’ve gotten lot done in the last year – including a “destination profile,” a document that is especially helpful to tour operators. The genius of this document is that it provides a snapshot of the Island as a whole and doesn’t focus on just one or two points of interest. This is important for tour operators because they are interested in selling an itinerary – or series of “must see” things to their clients.
And it’s easy to spend several hours – or a day or two on Staten Island. The North Shore Corridor currently boasts Snug Harbor Cultural Center, the Staten Island Yankees, the Postcards Memorial, the Lighthouse Museum, the St. George Theatre, the Staten Island Museum, Flagship Brewery and other sites. All of these attractions can work well together to entice visitors to spend time here. And once the Wheel and Outlets are open for business, we expect some 7 million tourists to get off the ferry each year to see what we’re about.
Over time, the crowds will begin to move inland and beyond to experience Staten Island. Also remember that there are niche markets as well – folks who will come out to see a particular type of architecture (Seguine Mansion), visit the beach (Boardwalk Days), trek historical sites (Conference House) or pay homage to a hero (Garibaldi-Meucci Museum). In addition, Historic Richmond Town and the Staten Island Zoo have also carved out tour bus business for their sites.
Transportation – from crowded ferries to a lack of bus service- is an issue that many focus on. The reality is, however, that when the crowds begin to come, the transportation issues we are currently faced with will organically begin to work themselves out, just as they have in other parts of the city that have experienced a boom. Our frustrations are not unique and they will not tank the opportunities that tourism brings to us.
There’s no shortage of fascinating places to visit or things to do on Staten Island – if you haven’t gotten to the Noble Maritime Collection or the Alice Austen Museum yet – get there. Marketing all of our gems appropriately is the next task at hand. We are currently engaging professionals in a variety of capacities to look at how Staten Island may best be served, especially in a day and age where people rely so much on their smartphones to guide them to their next meal. In addition, we look forward to continuing to work with all of our attractions to welcome visitors and ensure a great experience, no matter the length of their stay.