NEW YORK (AP) — The Big Apple is a bigger-than-ever tourist draw, welcoming a record 52 million visitors this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday.
The estimate, up more than 1 million from last year, caps several years of effort to make the tourist trade into an economic development engine for the nation's largest city. After reaching a goal of attracting 50 million annual visitors in 2011, Bloomberg has now set sights on 55 million by 2015.
The 2012 statistic "keeps us on course to meet our goal," the mayor said in announcing the number at a news conference animated by some New York razzle-dazzle: It was held at the popular American Museum of Natural History, and Bloomberg was flanked by a half-dozen of Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes.
An estimated 41 million of this year's visitors came from elsewhere in the United States, but the city says its international tourist base is growing notably. The numbers of Brazilian and Chinese visitors have nearly quintupled since 2006, the city says.
Roberta and Ricardo Valente were visiting New York on Monday from Rio de Janeiro with their toddler daughter, Valentina, and planning to take in New Year's Eve from their hotel room overlooking Times Square. Roberta said she'd noticed more interest among Brazilians in visiting New York these days.
"It's more accessible" economically, she said.
The tourism numbers are based on a model that includes surveys, hotel data, airport traffic and other information and includes business travelers and vacationers.
Hotels, for instance, hit a new high of 29 million nights sold in some 91,500 rooms citywide this year, up nearly 7 percent from 2011, Bloomberg said.
While New York has always been a magnet for visitors, the city has amped up efforts to market itself to tourists during Bloomberg's 11 years in office. The city's tourism arm, NYC & Co., has opened 18 offices in countries ranging from Australia to China to Sweden in roughly the past decade.
City officials say the efforts have paid off for both businesses and residents here.
This year's visitors generated an estimate of nearly $37 billion in direct spending, and more than $55 billion when such indirect benefits as orders to hospitality-industry suppliers are counted, the city says. Meanwhile, hotel room taxes alone topped $500 million this year; about $15 million went to NYC & Co. and the rest to fund general city operations, NYC & CO. CEO George Fertitta said.
The rest of NYC & Co.'s roughly $40 million-a-year budget comes from private sources, including sponsorships, corporate partnerships and dues paid by 2,000 hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions.
New York's claim to be "the premier United States travel destination" has sometimes raised eyebrows in its chief domestic rival for visitors — Orlando, Fla. Orlando officials last year forecast they'd hit more than 53 million visitors from 50 miles away or farther this year. New York officials have rebuffed the comparison, saying Orlando includes surrounding areas in its count.
But, Bloomberg said Monday, there are plenty of tourists to go around.
"Go to Orlando. It's a wonderful place," he said, but "I think New York has a very different experience than Orlando."