The numbers are amazing: More than two million visitors trek uptown annually to enjoy Harlem Week, a month-long, fun-filled celebration of one of the nation’s most vibrant communities.
Now imagine an additional surge of visitors that brings significant economic benefits to the neighborhood and its residents. That’s the plan as Harlem Week takes central role in a new state-driven marketing initiative to spur urban tourism in New York.
Dubbed “I Love New York-Harlem,” the campaign will align corporate, state and community entities to promote Harlem as a major tourism destination during the month of August. It will kick off next year.
The campaign is a unique effort because of its focus on urban tourism, according to Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the Harlem Week celebration. This initiative is in contrast to the iconic “I Love New York” ad campaign and slogan, launched in 1977 to promote tourism statewide, which mostly highlights attractions such as Niagara Falls, the Adirondacks and other upstate destinations.
“The only time that “I love New York” focused on New York City was a few years ago when they did a focus on Broadway theater,” said Williams, emphasizing the campaign’s unique Harlem focus.
Marion Phillips, senior VP for community relations at the Empire State Development Corp., which owns the “I Love New York” logo, came up with the idea of ramping up marketing for upper Manhattan and Harlem Week.
“They bring 1.5 to 2 million people to Harlem during one of the slowest tourist points – times – in the year, of the country,” said Phillips. “I reached out to our ‘I Love New York’ team, and they saw the perfect match. So we were able to really bring about marketing all of upper Manhattan and just not Harlem Week.”
Wasting no time, iloveny.com began the marketing effort with detailed information at this year’s Harlem Week, it was revealed today during NYC Economic Development Day events at Columbia University. Additional marketing efforts will follow on radio, TV and social media, said Williams.
The GHCC sees the new campaign as a win-win proposition for its prize event, the community and the state.
“The purpose is to build tourism in New York State,” said Williams, adding that the campaign would encourage tourists from upstate to visit the city and Harlem, while enticing Harlem and city residents to visit upstate or Long Island attractions.
Besides driving tourist traffic to myriad attractions of Harlem Week, “I Love New York-Harlem” will promote other upper Manhattan landmarks as far north as Washington Heights.
With an influx of visitors comes economic benefits, Williams noted. The GHCC also anticipates the creation of employment opportunities – in Harlem and in the tourism industry statewide – as well as the rise of small businesses such as restaurants and specialty shops.
Other partners in the new thrust to promote Harlem tourism include JetBlue, the official airline of the campaign; Greyhound, its official bus company, and the Shubert Organization, the campaign’s official Broadway theater partners.
JetBlue, which has corporate offices in Forest Hills, Queens, has been a Harlem Week partner and sponsor for years.
“As New York’s hometown airline, we have so many customers and crew members who live and work and play in Harlem,” said Ashley Graf, New York regional marketing manager. “So we’re really excited to be able to celebrate this community that is such an important part of who JetBlue is and what the City of New York embodies.”
The picture, overall, is rosy for Harlem, with domestic and international tourists flooding New York City in unprecedented numbers.
Last year, the city welcomed a record 62.8 million visitors, marking the eighth consecutive year of tourism growth, according to NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization for the city. Heavily promoted by NYC & Company, Harlem was a popular destination for tourists, an estimated 13.1 million of whom came from overseas.
“It stands out in a crowded field as the most loved and iconic place. It has authenticity to it,” said Christopher Heywood, senior vice president of Global Communications for NYC & Company.
And for tourists who wish to venture uptown, there are agencies such as Angie Hancock’s Experience Harlem to help them plan their excursion. Its products includes the “Essential Harlem Guide,” an annual booklet highlighting the best of Harlem, the Experience Harlem app, a web site by the same name, and Experience Harlem – Curated Events & Experiences, which lays claim to pioneering Harlem bar and restaurant crawls.