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 Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch

martin THE STATUE OF LIBERTY:
OVERPROMOTED, UNDERSOLD


BY MARTIN B. DEUTSCH

September 1, 1986 -- Predictably, it happened again. With all the millions of words committed to lavish and well-deserved praise of the recent July Fourth weekend in New York City, itís probably presumptuous of me to add to the deluge at this late date. Thatís particularly so since Iím about to do a little minor-league carping.

What is predictable is that the promoters of these grandiose events donít seem to learn that the excessive, exaggerated hype keeps visitors away. Itís what happened at the Olympics in Los Angeles two years ago; it occurred again as we observed the centennial of a splendidly refurbished Miss Liberty.

The word had been out for months, if not longer: New York City and its environs would be a study in gridlock. Stay away. If you live in the Big Apple, leave. If you value your sanity and your safety, stay the hell away. The projections were wildly inflated; I heard forecasts in excess of ten million tourists.

It came as no surprise to this cynic when he caught bits and pieces of a radio interview Thursday morning July 3rd. One of the major architects of the extravaganza was confirming, in tones of disbelief, that seats were available for the grand finale at the Meadowlands (N.J.) Sunday night July 6, that there were seats for most of the activities scheduled for the harbor and the Hudson River. Also, that tickets were available for the many dinner cruises sailing Thursday and Friday evenings.

What had happened to the anticipated hordes? They were frightened off, thatís what happened, or they left town. Besides the nightmare visions of a paralyzed metropolis, the rip-off pricing of some of the events didnít help matters, either. (I heard a number of war stories from people who bought dinner cruises at $295 or $325 a head, involving overbooking, overcrowding, long buffet lines and mediocre food, plus the failure of the ships to move out of the Hudson into the harbor for the promised unobstructed views.)

Several friends, from Chicago and Los Angeles, said they would have come had they known the celebration would turn out a "manageable" as it ultimately did. Thereís no question that most of us are endowed with short memories, but the short memory of the Angelenos was most surprising. I had reminded my West Coast friends, months before the Statueís rebirth, that their 1984 Olympics had been blessed with free-flowing freeways, a multitude of empty space, thousands of rental cars which went unrented, and airplane seats aplenty.

Not coming to New York July 4th this year was their loss. But the concerns were understandable.

From personal experience, getting around the Big Apple was a cinch. On Thursday evening (the 3rd), we took the subway as recommended to Wall Street and walked to a pier on the East River to board an Irish navy vessel. (The subway in both directions was uncrowded; we had seats.) The Irish naval frigate L.E. Eithne, loaded with some 150 guests, anchored virtually in Miss Libertyís shadow. The touching and memorable lighting ceremonies marked the high point of the program, at least for this graduate of Ellis Island (January 30, 1939). An aside: we were told the Eithne was the first Irish naval ship ever to cross the Atlantic.

On Friday morning we crossed the George Washington Bridgeówithout delayóto watch the tall ships from a penthouse apartment in Fort Lee. As they had ten years earlier for the Bicentennial, these majestic sailing vessels fashioned a stately parade on the Hudson. Getting back into Manhattan by bus was a breeze, as was the car ride downtown, even though the West Side Highway was closed for the impending fireworks. We boarded a local cruise ship for a dinner-dance as guests of the travel promotion community from Finland; the herring and salmon were predictably outstanding. The pyrotechnics were spectacular, as advertised. Getting home by car was traffic free; we should have more festive weekends like this, I thought. Itís easier to get around.

Nothing that Iíve said in this column, or implied, should be construed as criticism of this ambitious undertaking. The event was a resounding success, from Thursday through Sunday, and everyone involved deserves the highest praise: the planners, the organizers, the impresarios, the performers, nor should we overlook the fine work by Mayor Koch and his forces.

Nor does all the credit belong to New York City or State. Quite probably, Miss Liberty and her island occupy New Jersey waters, and the Garden State was an important participant. Late in May, I had interviewed Gov. Thomas Kean in Trenton for a television show that was shown at a travel industry convention the following month in Phoenix. I asked him about the Statueís location. He said that while it was in New Jersey territory, Miss Liberty belongs to the people of America. Thereís a man to keep an eye on.

A final comment on the dangers of excessive hype, especially when it affects business and pleasure destinations that cater to frequent travelers. Over the summer just past, visitors by the thousands stayed away from Hawaii. Why? They and their travel agents were under the misconception that because of the drop-off in travel to Europe, Hawaii was swamped with tourists. It wasnít. Said the general manager of a big hotel: "One of our major problems is that the mainland thinks weíre sold out. But the prime properties are not. Everybodyís got empty rooms in July and August."

Tell it like it is guys. Before you scare the business off.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.