, DECEMBER 8, 2007  (STAR) By Tonette Martel - New York can be your second home. At least, that’s how New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sees it. And it happens to be the idea behind the latest tourism campaign of the city called“, Just Ask the Locals.” The first phase of the campaign was launched last August 29 to welcome and thank visitors from around the world. “New York is truly the world’s second home, which is why so many people from across the globe make this a destination for their holidays and vacations. New Yorkers have always been welcoming and friendly, but not enough people in the world know about it. So now, we’re going the extra mile to make visitors feel even more at home by offering a helpful piece of advice, an insider’s tip or just a friendly smile as they explore and enjoy the wonderful attractions here in our city,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

Robert De Niro, Julianne Moore, comedian Jimmy Fallon and artist Chuck Close are some of the celebrity locals featured in the campaign. The first five-borough marketing campaign includes a tourist hotline, a new tourist website, color maps with guided tours of celebrity residents’ favorite neighborhoods and tip cards with things to know when going around the city. New York already attracts a large number of visitors — 48.3 million in 2006 — while overseas travel has grown by nine percent between 2000 and 2006. Still, tourism is a vital industry for the city. Last year, visitor arrivals generated $24.7 billion in spending and supported more than 368,000 jobs.

The current marketing blitz really brings home the fact that the city’s people are its greatest asset. They are, by far, the most diverse populace on the planet and the most well-informed people anywhere. They happen to be among the friendliest city-dwellers, too.

New Yorkers might not strike you as kind, helpful or friendly because they seem to be caught in a whirlwind of activity. But they do take the time to support various causes and endeavors. The spirit of giving back, led by industry giants, built what is known as the “Museum Mile” — a 20-block radius housing the world’s finest art museums.

Art and cultural institutions today have expanded their mandate to address new social realities. Just visit one of the museums and stop at the information desk. It will strike you that such institutions have become extensions of learning as well as venues for leisure and entertainment. In any season, especially in the spring and in the fall, you can have your fill of lectures, performances, feature films, and cap a weekend evening dining at the fine restaurants of the Morgan Library and the Museum of Modern Art. A new breed of cultural leaders understands what culture does best—it brings people together. The Metropolitan Museum of Art along the Museum Mile takes in four million visitors a year and showcases 5,000 years of art history.

But it doesn’t stop with history or the past. The city is exploring an area of growing appeal to the international art market — contemporary art. The Guggenheim Museum opened a new department dedicated to the field of contemporary Asian art, while an upcoming art fair in early November was held at the Hudson River waterfront, featuring emerging artists from 13 countries. The world comes to New York and expects to see art to suit every kind of taste.

This is a city where a limo driver might be working on book about 18th-century European history, or might engage you in a discussion about the re-development of Harlem while a Russian manicurist shares fascinating footnotes on the life of Catherine the Great, and a pulmonary specialist has another life as an accomplished concert pianist. If anyone ever tells you that New York lacks the culture Europe has to offer— think again! Here’s another way of looking at it: New York is at the forefront of a fast-rising global culture.

Then, there’s the matter of everyday living – those you encounter on the street, those that make up a neighborhood which is really what New York is all about. Every neighborhood has its own pulse, a tempo that adds to the rhythm of city life. Soho is an upbeat and refreshing counterpoint to the rarefied setting of Park Avenue – but don’t ever compare the two, because each has its place and function in the stream of New York life. Uptown or downtown, east side or west side — every neighborhood has something to boast about, a particular landmark that cannot be replicated elsewhere. The Time-Warner Center, an imposing glass structure of retail and top-tier restaurants in the heart of the Upper West Side, would look odd in the intimate setting of Gramercy Park, where Ian Schrager’s Gramercy Park Hotel stands across a private park. The rich red interiors enhanced with gothic accents, the hotel sits well in this locale where literary figures and artists once lived. Whatever the neighborhood, it’s not unusual for those you encounter to send you off with the line, “ Have a good day” or “Take care.” “How can I help you?” is another line you’re likely to hear as you go about your day.

While crossing on the intersection of Third Avenue and 70th street, I turned to see that a woman had just taken a bad fall. Just as quickly as it happened, four women rushed to her side to help her up and dust her off, asking if they could be of further help. We’ve heard the stories of the kindness and generosity of New Yorkers in the aftermath of 9/11. The attitude that says “We are all in this together” is what underlies the success of this boomtown. The city came through its biggest test on September 11, 2001, which later proved to be its finest hour. The world watched and felt a kinship with New Yorkers. In those moments, they saw the power of unity and compassion in a city they once thought of as uncaring. The city never stops taking you by surprise.

You thought you saw one of the best city mayors in the person of Rudy Guiliani — that is, until Michael Bloomberg came along. The city has never been in better shape — safer, more prosperous and with a growing awareness of its place in the world and the notion of giving back. Bloomberg is working to build a cleaner, greener and less congested New York by the year 2030 and was recently ranked among the most generous Americans in 2006 in the October issue of Vanity Fair. Ronald and Leonard Lauder, the cosmetic moguls behind Estee Lauder have turned their focus on philanthropy and the arts. Ronald is the co-founder of the Neue Galerie while Leonard is responsible for the recent acquisitions of pop art and abstract paintings at the Whitney Museum. Meanwhile, actor Robert De Niro and his partners who are behind the Tribeca Film Festival are looking to build a permanent home for the festival in an undeveloped site on the Hudson River Park.

New Yorkers understand that philanthropy is a gift that keeps on giving. In New York, you not only have a city of big givers and spenders—you have a wellspring of ideas coming your way from all fronts.

There is an unusual openness to ideas, to variety and to differences here. In other places that might give way to social tensions – but in New York it’s seen as diversity. Wherever you come from, you’re welcome to stay and make your way. That’s why the place easily feels like a second home.

In this walking city, there’s a good chance that you’ll run into fellow countrymen — on a brief or extended visit, on their way to work, or simply heading back to their house in the suburbs or their apartment in the city. Our fellow Filipinos are among the city’s finest — building fashion empires or running the city’s top hotels and best hospitals, serving as brokers in prestigious real estate firms, or advisers for big financial firms. The city rewards creativity and industry but celebrates uniqueness.

In the last few months, The New Yorker featured Kim Hastreiter and her magazine Paper, a chronicler of life downtown, and a magazine that looks at alternative ways of enjoying and appreciating city life. Hastreiter has been known to bring unlikely people together in business partnerships or spotting future stars in the world of fashion. Kim’s orbit says much about a city that draws and nurtures talent.

In the same manner, some of the top Chinese contemporary artists now featured at the Goedhuis Gallery on East 76th Street came to live and work in New York long before they became famous, knowing that the city would offer them a safe haven for artistic expression.

But here’s what matters the most: the city never rests on its laurels. As it is poised to welcome the new, the daring and the different, the tourists will keep on coming. And many of them might just make the city their second home. 

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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