Brooklyn: The Tourists Are Coming!

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Brooklyn Heights is among the neighborhoods in the borough reaping benefits from a tourism boom

Brooklyn tourism is flourishing, thanks to the efforts to attract more visitors to the borough. More than 15 million visitors came to Brooklyn last year, confirming its status as one of the top destinations in New York City, according to City Guide Magazine. And through newly launched programs and online promotions, neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights are able to enjoy the boom.

The neighborhood, in fact, is one of the most popular tourist spots in the borough. Brooklyn Heights is known for its graceful brownstone houses, built before the Civil War, and its location next to the waterfront Brooklyn Heights Promenade and the stunning Brooklyn Bridge. The neighborhood as a whole was recognized as the first Historical District in 1965 in New York City.

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Brooklyn Heights (Siqi Tian/The Brooklyn Ink)

With the opening of Brooklyn Bridge Park in 2008—and with the city’s general tourism climb in the last six years to nearly 60 million tourists in 2015—the neighborhood has welcomed more visitors than ever before, said Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

It is difficult to measure tourism in specific neighborhoods. But in Brooklyn Heights, Montague Street, the main street, is certainly a draw, with its numerous shops and restaurants. Cheryl Byron, the manager of a café on Montague Street (she asked not to name the cafe due to company rules), believes this neighborhood is not unlike much of the rest of Brooklyn. “There are so many different restaurants and a little bit of everything, and that makes the neighborhood, and also New York City unique. It brings the whole world together, ” she said.

Byron says that the majority of visitors to the area are from Europe. She said she has seen people from Germany, Finland, France, and a few from Canada. And she enjoys talking with tourists. “It’s especially really cool when German people come, because my best friend lives in Germany, so that’s always fun to speak their language. I tried to chat with them and make them feel comfortable. Mostly they are on their way to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and this café is a great location for them to stop by,” she said.

Byron believes more tourists come to Brooklyn Heights because the information about the neighborhood is accessible on social media and people are able to read others’ experience. But in addition to active online sharing, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce also developed the borough’s own tourism website in 2014, called ExploreBK.com. The goal was “to foster economic growth by spreading the word to tourist and businesses alike that Brooklyn is the place to be.”

The website added another sponsor, Airbnb, in September 2015. This online homestay network, which emphasizes local experience, provides information to ExploreBK.com, like recommendations from local hosts on what to do in the borough. Airbnb will also launch a Neighborhood Tourism Fellowship, which will provide grant funding to support a fellow who will work with local businesses to help them engage with visitors and benefit from tourism in Brooklyn.

Nearly one-third of Airbnb visitors to New York chose Brooklyn as their primary destination, and nearly half of all Airbnb visitors to New York City paid a visit to Brooklyn on their trip, which generated $199 million in economic activity throughout the borough in 2014, according to Airbnb.

“I have more international guests than the domestic ones, and they have spent more time in Brooklyn Heights than I expected,” said Mario Ducoudray, an Airbnb host and a long time resident of Brooklyn Heights.* “The neighborhood has become extremely more popular now than in 1990s.”

Indeed, the growing popularity of the trend of “traveling like a local,” alongside increased promotions of the outer boroughs, are among primary causes for the boost to the record-breaking number of tourists, Christopher Heywood, a spokesman for the city’s official tourism marketing organization NYC & Company, told AmNewYork.

In February, Borough President Eric Adams and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Carlo Scissura announced the revamp of the Brooklyn Tourism Visitors Center and Gift Shop. The information hub is located at the Brooklyn Borough Hall, a Greek Revival style building which is often included in the Brooklyn Heights walking tour. The office will be updated with iPad stations to provides tourists with guidance on what to do and see in the borough.

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The Brooklyn Borough Hall (Siqi Tian/The Brooklyn Ink)

“The popularity of our brand must translate into prosperity for all Brooklynites, and tourism is a vehicle to achieve that mission,” Adam said.

Business owners in Brooklyn Heights have additional ideas about what could draw more tourists to Brooklyn. Byron mentions that the neighborhood could do better with bicycling. “I do not ride a bike, but I know the riding experience in Europe is totally different. They sort of have a partnership with pedestrians and drivers, but bicycling here is still inconvenient,” Byron said.

There could be better work on social media to spread the word about smaller lesser-known areas, said Tom Calfa, owner of the deli Lassen & Hennings on Montague Street. “The Chamber are great, but they are promoting Brooklyn as a whole without much narrowing down. People doing business on Montague Street should be promoted specifically on their own.”

Not surprisingly, tourists are not universally welcomed in Brooklyn Heights by some residents and even some business owners. Tyler Carpenter, who works at the Emack & Bolio’s Ice Cream shop on Montague Street, says the primary customers are local families and this residential neighborhood is not really the type to draw visitors. “It is secluded, warmer, and people know each other. As business owners, we want more people to come. But as residents, there is no need to drive them here,” Carpenter said.

“There are competing interests here. We have more than 22,000 residents here, and we are certainly not Disneyland, ” Bray said.

 

Correction:  The article inaccurately mentioned that Mario Ducoudray was a former tour guide. In fact, he has never been a tour guide, but a former director of events and activities at Center for English Studies in Manhattan and a documentary filmmaker now.

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