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Terror Attack Hurts New York City Tourism - 2001-09-23

The September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center struck into the heart of New York's financial district. The attack is also having a devastating effect on New York's second biggest industry, tourism.

Hotel rooms sit empty. Restaurants that once required reservations weeks in advance welcome last minute guests. Some major tourist attractions, like the Statue of Liberty and the United Nations can be seen, but not entered.

For New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the city's number one booster, the best way to help New York is to come for a visit. "New York is back up and going again," he says. "So please come. We need your money. The actual site itself, we keep narrowing the hot zone so that two-thirds of the area that was closed last week at this time is now open."

One of the hardest hit industries has been the theater. Broadway shows have lost more than $3 million so far. Half a dozen shows have closed, and more are expected to dim their lights. Others are teetering. This is especially true for long-playing musicals with big casts that rely heavily on out-of-town ticket sales.

David Lotz is communications director for Actors Equity, the union that represents Broadway actors. According to him, sinking theater sales - down 60 percent - have a ripple effect. "The downturn has affected hundreds of actors, restaurant workers, hotel workers, cabdrivers, in fact, the whole fabric of the city," he says. "You have to remember that theater is New York's number one tourist industry, generating millions and millions of dollars for the city and for the revenue."

Theater workers involved in five troubled productions, including long-running blockbusters like "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables" and "Rent," took an unprecedented step to rescue the shows. David Lotz says, "All of the unions, including the actors, stage managers, technicians, stage hands, box office, company managers, wardrobe, hair stylist everyone has agreed to a 25-percent pay cut for four weeks, starting next week, in order to help the theaters start to regenerate some income. Most of these shows are losing upwards of one-quarter-of-a-million dollars a week, because they are so tourist dependent."

Annie Golden is a member of the cast of "The Full Monty," one of the struggling shows, says, "It is the least we can do, to keep Broadway running and to help Mayor Giuliani show the world and the nation that New York is not going to be changed by this. We are only going to rebuild and come out stronger. That is the American way."

The international audience is so important to New York theaters that the cast of the hit musical "42nd Street" took a break from rehearsals so that cast member Mylinda Hall could talk with VOA. She says audiences can exercise their freedom of expression by seeing a show. "Instead of buying a war bond, as you would in times of trouble in the past, I say, buy a ticket to a Broadway show," she adds. "That will be your act of rebellion and defiance."

There are signs that people are beginning to heed the message. Some relatively new shows, which metropolitan area residents have yet to see, are selling out. And for the first time since September 11, people are lining up again at the half-price ticket office in the middle of the Broadway theater district.

"I think it is always a good time to go to the theater, and I think we should support it, because it is part of the heart of New York," says a patron. That sentiment is shared by many ticket buyers who see their purchase as a way to salute New York City. "Broadway is such a part of New York," says a woman. "What can I do to help? Part of it is to go out and do [something], because, unfortunately, tourists are not. So we, as New Yorkers, need to come out and go and see the shows so they do not close down."

New York is reintroducing its "I Love New York" tourism campaign to draw back visitors. Already a number of convention groups have switched their meetings from other locations to New York, where they are being welcomed with open arms and lower prices.