The Big Apple Not Eaten by Strong Dollar

New York City never sleeps, neither do its visitors. Times Square is as busy during the day as it is at midnight. Economists worry the strong dollar may dim tourists’ interest in coming to the country. If this is happening, the Big Apple is a bad case to prove the theory.

Last year, foreign travelers spent $133 billion in the U.S., down 2 percent from 2014, according to a report by the U.S. Travel Association. Tourism analysts suggest the stronger dollar hurts the U.S. tourism industry as foreign travelers tighten their spending due to an exchange rate less in their favor.

Yet New York City gets to set its own agenda. Despite overall lower international tourism spending in the country, New York City receives special treatment from foreign tourists — the number of visitors is at a record high and the strong dollar hasn’t clouded their spending.

Tourists crowded the SoHo Streets on a weekday afternoon in New York City, Sep. 22, 2016. (Upstart City/Jane Yi Zhang)

Tourists crowded SoHo, the artists-filled shopping district in Manhattan, on a Thursday afternoon last week. A couple from Argentina was planning a shopping spree in NYC during their visit.

“Argentina is so much more expensive,” said Mariano Diaz. “Everything here is like half price.” Argentina is suffering a 40.5 percent inflation rate this year. Meanwhile, the stores in SoHo sell Diaz’s favorite clothes cheaper than at home. Despite the stronger dollar, the price of these items is still much lower in New York than in Buenos Aires even after accounting for the exchange rate.

Diaz and his wife Agustina expected to go back home with their suitcases full. They were hunting for clothing, electronics and toys for their soon-to-be-born baby girl.

The MasterCard’s 2015 Global Destination Cities Index shows that international visitors spent $17.37 billion in New York City 2015, up 3.1 percent from 2014. The research team of the company expects the amount to keep climbing this year.

International tourists spending in New York City is increasing in recent years. Data source: Mastercard “2015 Global Destination Cities Index”. (Upstart City/Jane Yi Zhang)

Shopping, however, is usually not the main reason tourists flock the Big Apple. Many visitors come to New York because it’s New York — its history, the museums, even the all-day-long shadows created by the skyscrapers on both sides of the Manhattan streets.

“I care more about seeing the city, the architecture, the streets, than shopping,” said Henrike Meier, a first time New York City visitor from Germany. The weak euro didn’t play a significant role in Meier’s decision to tour the Big Apple for two and a half weeks.

In the first quarter of 2014, 100 euros could buy Meier $137. Today, the same amount of euros is only worth $112. The disparity is hard to ignore in planning a $3,000 trip from Germany to the U.S., but Meier is not the only traveller who’s not intimidated by the strong dollar.

The U.S. received more than 38 million overseas visitors, 9.9 percent more than 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. New York City remains the most visited city, which welcomed more than 10.1 million of foreign travelers in 2015, up by 2.4 percent from 2014, followed by Miami, Los Angeles and Orlando.

“It doesn’t matter,” Meier said as she shrugged. “I still want to see New York City.”