Lang Lang Is Named New York’s First ‘Cultural Tourism Ambassador’
New York City, already a top international tourist destination, has a message for visitors from China: There’s more to see than the Empire State Building and Times Square.
To spread that message and appeal to the growing number of Chinese tourists heading abroad, the city has named the superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang as its first “cultural tourism ambassador.”
At a ceremony outside Steinway Hall in Manhattan on Tuesday — or “Lang Lang Day,” as proclaimed by Mayor Bill de Blasio — the musician was presented with a personalized double-decker bus featuring his photo in front. The event was timed to coincide with the release last week of Mr. Lang’s latest album, “New York Rhapsody,” billed as a love letter to the city where Mr. Lang, 34, maintains a residence.
“This is part of an effort to grow Chinese travelers coming to New York,” said Christopher Heywood, senior vice president of global communications for NYC & Company, the city’s tourism promotion agency. “Many cities in the U.S. are courting this market, and we want to make sure we are remaining competitive.”
For New York, that means encouraging travelers to venture beyond the standard-issue tourist sights and seek different experiences in the city’s boroughs outside Manhattan.
“Each neighborhood has its own sound and rhythm,” Mr. Lang says in apromotional video for the city. To accompany the video, Mr. Lang released a list of some of his favorite things in the city. It includes familiar spots — Carnegie Hall, Broadway and, yes, the Empire State Building — but also attractions that might not show up on the typical tour group circuit: Chinese food and the Steinway piano factory in Queens and the Dumbo neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Next to Dumbo, Mr. Lang wrote: “It’s an awesome neighborhood for dating, because there are so many restaurants and coffee shops.”
In highlighting what Mr. Heywood called “off-the-beaten-path” experiences, the city is responding to a shift in Chinese tourism away from whirlwind, multicity group tours toward individual travelers who set their own itineraries.
This shift is happening as Chinese tourism in the city has grown. In July, NYC & Company announced a two-year partnership with the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration to bolster tourism between the two cities, part of a broader effort that has been labeled the “U.S.-China Tourism Year.”
About 850,000 visitors from China went to New York last year, according to NYC & Company. The agency predicts that number will increase to around 920,000 this year and that China will soon overtake Brazil as the second-largest source of foreign visitors to New York, behind Britain.
While some New Yorkers may say that their city does not lack for tourists, local officials say there is still room for growth.
“We have a robust hotel development pipeline,” Mr. Heywood said. “So we have capacity to fill more of these hotel rooms and we also have a seasonal need to bring more visitors to New York in the first quarter of the year, which happens to coincide with the Chinese New Year holiday.”
There is one other activity for which there appears to be insatiable demand and supply: shopping.
Mr. Heywood noted the anticipation surroundingEmpire Outlets, a mall and entertainment complex scheduled to open on Staten Island next year. The outlets are expected to be a hit among the many foreign tourists who ride the ferries for views of the Statue of Liberty — in particular the Chinese, most of whom list shopping as a top priority while traveling for leisure abroad.
“Our job is to expand the horizon of the Chinese traveler to showcase the authentic experiences and the new opportunity,” Mr. Heywood said. “And Staten Island is just as much a part of New York City as Midtown.”