How luxury travel in New York evolved under Fred Dixon

LATTE chats exclusively with NYC Tourism + Conventions President & CEO

Fred Dixon, President & CEO, NYC Tourism + Conventions | Source: LATTE

New York City’s luxury offering for international visitors has broadened vastly over the past 10 years, from a “very narrow segment” to a wider, more accessible market. That’s the view of Fred Dixon, President and CEO of NYC Tourism + Conventions who has headed the office since 2014.

Dixon joined NYC Tourism in 2005, initially as Vice President of Tourism, so he’s witnessed firsthand the evolution of travel and all its intricacies in the Big Apple for nearly 20 years. He’ll soon be moving on to the role of President and CEO of Brand USA, commencing in that gig in mid-July. LATTE sat down with Dixon at the IPW conference this week in Los Angeles to gain insight on New York’s high-end offering for visitors.

“The notion of luxury has expanded in so many over the years,” Dixon said. “It isn’t just fine china, Egyptian thread count sheets, white-glove service and so on. It’s very much about experiences and that’s what we’ve witnessed in New York.”

Times Square | Credit: Walter Wlodarczyk/NYC Tourism + Conventions

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“Luxury is all about access. It’s always been about access. Can you get into something hot that’s sold out? Something exclusive… and that’s still the case.”

“The thing that we’ve seen in New York – and what’s exciting for us – is the expansion of the experiences.”

“You can now go and watch a private practice session of a basketball team – like the Brooklyn Nets. You can also pay to have one-to-one practice with a player. These unique, one-off experiences that money can now buy,” he explained.

“Yes you can do the private helicopter tours of the city and the luxury yacht experience, but one of the things to me

Fred Dixon, President & CEO, NYC Tourism + Conventions

that is most interesting is this notion of aspirational luxury. This ‘upgrading’ yourself. Even if you’re not a million-dollar household, a lot of folk choose to come to New York and treat themselves.”

“So does that mean upgrading to a Junior Suite, will you splurge and do a private tour of the Met or Moma where you pay to have a makeover experience with a notable hairdresser or a makeup artist?

“These kinds of things are attainable now. They’re accessible in a way that they weren’t before.”

Top of the Rock | Credit: Matthew Papa

“The traditional scope of luxury which was a very narrow segment now is much wider and accessible to many more people. And when you have a destination like New York that is so associated with luxury…It’s diamonds, the Met Gala (which was last night), it’s glamour… everyone can have a bit of a taste of that.”

Dixon said that for NYC tourism members and partners it’s been interesting to watch the segment evolve.

“We see that as a huge opportunity, especially as our hotel product has grown, our shopping and retail and culinary product has grown, chefs’ tables are now more common than they were before and much more accessible. Yet we still maintain that allure and that draw and aspiration for the ultra-rich that are looking to come, whether it’s for health care – that’s certainly a big part of travel now as well, especially in New York.

“If you have an issue, whatever it is, if you’re looking for the best talent, the best doctors, the best science – our hotel products now cater for that as well. Whatever treatment you’re coming for, New York has the product for you.

Madison Square Garden | Credit: Juliene Schaer/NYC Tourism + Conventions

Equity in travel

Dixon drilled down on NYC’s strategy in broadening the visitor mindset to look outside and beyond Manhattan and making sure tourists understand the distinction between the five boroughs and their personalities.

“We’ve been committed to the notion of building equity in travel for a very long time.”

“We knew coming in that Midtown Manhattan is what you saw in every product in every brochure. Obviously, it’s the iconic – Radio City, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Empire State Building, theatre, Broadway, Times Square… but we’ve grown the product over the last 19 years deeper into the five boroughs.”

“People are exploring all parts of New York City in a way than they never were before.”

He said a program NYC Tourism + Conventions developed is assisting small businesses quickly advance their awareness, “to make sure they have an opportunity to grow in that space as well.”

“Underrepresented communities and voices are in the story and at the table now.”

Park Slope | CreditL Joe Buglewicz/NYC Tourism + Conventions

A program called Tourism Ready offers a free academy for small businesses to learn about the industry from the ground up.

“What is FIT, what is a tour operator, what does a contract look like, what is freesale, how do I get my product in front of trade in Australia?

“It’s gone a long way in educating our community and bringing them up to speed, giving them opportunities, plugging them into the system in a way that now makes product available, its promoted, and it has helped expand the destination.

“It’s made our capacity bigger, and it’s also made New York, I think, more attractive.”

Coney Island | Credit: Matthew Penrod/NYC Tourism + Conventions

Dixon highlighted that 80% of visitors that came to New York City last year only came to NYC. They didn’t go to any other destination, due to the variety and scope of things to do and explore.”

“Now you’re seeing travellers that are coming to New York and staying in Brooklyn, and perhaps not even going into Manhattan because there is so many rich products and experiences there.”

“I’m very proud how we’ve expanded the destination. We’ve included under-represented communities, we’ve levelled the playing field in a way, made the destination even more attractive. Over 13 million international travellers will come into NYC this year. If you combined visitor arrivals to LA and Miami it still doesn’t equal New York.

“Coincidentally, it could be a cool playbook for the country,” Dixon said, maybe suggesting the strategy could be initiated under his leadership at Brand USA.

“So the luxury space is more expansive today than what it ever has been before. And I’m confident that will only continue,” Dixon concluded.

More exclusive commentary from Dixon in LATTE next week.

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