It’s taxing on the wallet for the visitor to New York


  • Opinion
  • Saturday, 21 Apr 2007

THIS city of eight million is a thief of hearts and wallets. The pricey, intoxicating Big Apple leaves visitors smitten and broke if their paycheque isn't big enough. 

Last year, the city was a magnet to almost 44 million tourists, partly lured by the images immortalised by Carrie Bradshaw skipping about on her Manolos and “Friends” having coffee at Central Perk.  

Reality, however, isn’t entirely charming. For most tourists, seeking shelter in New York City is the main budget-busting woe. 

Hooi Sow Chun, 39, spent a fortnight here last month with her mother and sister. The total accommodation cost for their stay at a studio apartment in Greenwich Village came up to US$1,920 (RM6,580). 

“Accommodation was the most expensive part of our trip. We travelled using my sister’s frequent flyer miles. If we had to purchase tickets, it would have cost us RM4,500 per person,” said Hooi, a homemaker. 

She had no complaints, though, about the studio apartment, which was located near a subway station. The location was good and there was cable TV and Internet access. 

“The only setback was that the apartment is on the fourth floor and there is no elevator,” she said. 

“Another horror was an ‘uninvited guest’ – a rat – which came one night and ransacked our bags the minute we turned off the lights.”  

But looking for a clean, spotless budget hotel isn’t well-nigh impossible. Take Pod Hotel, a funky, chic budget hotel which opened here in January to roaring success. 

“Yes, there are more inexpensive hotels. But you may not want to stay there as they are not that clean and attractive,” said David Bernstein, the managing director. 

Rates at Pod Hotel range from US$89 to US$229 (RM305 to RM785). The hotel, according to Bernstein, was part of a trend described as “budget boutique” that was now sweeping across Europe. 

Staying in these fashionably and artfully designed rooms at least won’t leave you entirely down and out in New York. 

Most of these hotels cut costs by, say, reducing manpower to allow for more automated tasks. Construction costs reportedly went down for some of these places when owners, for example, leave brick walls exposed for that aesthetic look. 

In New York, room rates have jumped 39% in the past four years. They now average US$240 (RM823) a night. 

Besides the room charges, there are also the taxes to contend with. One New York Times report estimated that these hotel taxes amount to 14% in New York City. 

Asked about these additional costs to travellers, Bernstein only shrugged. He acknowledged that hotel guests had to pay a host of taxes as required under state and city laws. 

Authorities are now targeting 50 million visitors annually by 2015. They want to push the message across to people who assume the city is too expensive to visit. 

About seven million of the 44 million visitors to New York last year were foreigners. The weaker dollar played a part, certainly. 

This foreign invasion of tourists is reportedly welcome because they usually spend about US$196 (RM672) a day compared with US$166 (RM569) by local travellers. 

“They also stay longer – seven days compared with two days for their domestic counterparts,” according to the New York Post

In a way, the cost of living here is lower than in Malaysia on a dollar-for-dollar comparison. 

“Minus the ringgit to dollar conversion, the cost of hotel accommodation looks cheaper in Manhattan than in KL. I don’t think we can find a studio apartment for four persons for RM90-RM120 a night in KL. Even a hotel room in central London can be about £90 (RM618) a night,” Hooi noted. 

Still, most poor mortals would have to hit paydirt before they begin crooning “New York, New York.” 

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