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Despite Superstorm Sandy, NYC tourism remains strong

By Rande Iaboni, CNN
updated 5:57 PM EST, Fri November 30, 2012
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was lit on November 28. The giant tree is a magnet for holiday visitors. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was lit on November 28. The giant tree is a magnet for holiday visitors.
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Holiday spirit in New York
Holiday spirit in New York
Holiday spirit in New York
Holiday spirit in New York
Holiday spirit in New York
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NYC tourism officials say the city is on track for a record number of visitors
  • Following Superstorm Sandy, most hotels and attractions are open for business
  • While Midtown Manhattan was largely undamaged, other areas are suffering slowdowns

New York (CNN) -- The crowd of festival goers at a holiday market in New York City's Columbus Circle Friday seemed to support the message city tourism officials have been spreading far and wide: The Big Apple is open for business and welcoming its usual influx of holiday visitors.

Superstorm Sandy's wrath a month ago will cost New York state $41 billion, according to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but tourists have largely been unfazed by the storm, which caused very little damage to Midtown Manhattan, the hub of the city's magical holiday attractions.

That's no doubt a relief to those who wondered if tourists would be skeptical about visiting the Big Apple after the storm brought the city to a standstill at the end of October.

"Absolutely not," said Michigan visitor Kelly Coll, 48, who has traveled to New York this season for the last 14 years with friend Tiffany Moen, 46. "The storm did not affect our plans at all," Coll told CNN on Friday afternoon.

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In fact, New York City is on track for a record number of tourists this year, according to George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Co., the city's marketing and tourism association.

The tourism association estimates there will be around 52 million tourists this year, up from last year's 50.9 million.

"Ninety-five percent of all of our hotels, attractions, restaurants and transportation are completely back to normal," Fertitta said. "For all intents and purposes, visitors should not feel deterred from coming to New York. NYC is open for business."

Some tourists say media coverage of recovery efforts in the city encouraged them to make and keep plans to visit.

"I was not skeptical at all because of everything I had seen on television," said Roger Archut, 30, a first-time visitor from Germany. Storm damage in New York City was portrayed as "under control."

John Murphy, 54, visiting from Ireland with his wife, shared a similar story. Coverage of the storm indicated to him that the area most crucial for holiday attractions, Midtown, home to Fifth Avenue and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, was "well maintained."

New York City hotels are running and fully prepared for the holiday rush of tourists, officials say.

"Hotel occupancy is strong and there have been no cancellations due to apprehension from Hurricane Sandy," said Lisa Linden, spokesperson for the Hotel Association of New York City, representing just under 300 hotels in the area.

Yet just because tourism is expected to reach an all-time high this year doesn't mean some businesses aren't hurting in the aftermath of the storm.

At the southern tip of Manhattan in the hard-hit Financial District, Harry's Café & Steak, a popular eatery with visitors during the holiday season, still struggles.

"There has definitely been a decrease in business," owner Peter Poulakakos told CNN on Friday. Many restaurants rely heavily on the holiday season for a huge portion of their yearly income.

"Get the word out that we are here and ready to serve!" Poulakakos said.

Despite declines, many remain hopeful that business will pick up in the coming weeks.

"The one to two weeks before Sandy were very hard because many tourists didn't want to be here during the storm," said Diancoumba Mamadou, who works for Pedicab NYC, a business almost completely reliant on tourism.

"But thankfully, now it is beginning to get back to normal and hopefully will continue on that path."

If the record-breaking estimates from NYC & Co are any indication, that path will certainly continue.

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