NEW YORK--Labor costs are coming down, the hotel tax has been slashed, and positive publicity about Manhattan is up, making this a more user-friendly town for conventions and trade shows. So said apparel industry show promoters, who praised the efforts of Gov. George E. Pataki and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for making the city more affordable, which they said enhances its appeal as a business and entertainment destination. Affordability aside, the most important element in drawing buyers is the shows themselves, and promoters said making their events more productive and the trips more convenient is the best thing they can do for retailers. This month, the governor visited Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to highlight labor reforms implemented at the center. At Pataki's recommendation, executives at the Javits Center have hired about 450 people as state employees to handle what used to be contracted to unionized labor, reducing the work force by about 40 percent. With the trimmed labor force, the costs of doing business at the million-square-foot facility are also shrinking. Loading and transport fees, for example, are expected to be cut in half eventually. Other fees, like decorating charges, will also fall, after the new employees are trained and up to speed. About 10 percent of the leading 200 trade shows in the city use the Javits Center, but that number should increase in the months ahead, according to Jonathan Larkin, vice president of The Larkin Group, a show producer. Larkin's trade shows at the Javits Center include the International Fashion Boutique Show, the International Kids Fashion Show and the International Fashion Fabrics Exhibition. He applauded the efforts of the Pataki and Giuliani administrations. "They understand the value of making it more attractive to do business here," Larkin said. "In the past, other administrations only talked about the problems at the Javits Center. This is the first time an administration is looking for a solution. This will have residual effects by bringing more business to New York City." He said the large shows at the Javits center have flourished, despite any problems they might have had in the past with labor. "Now that these costs are coming down, manufacturers will save a lot of money over time," he said. As for hotel taxes, the State of New York repealed a levy of 5 percent on rooms of $100 or more as of Sept. 1, 1994, and the City of New York eliminated its 1 percent tourism surcharge as of Dec. 1. The tax on hotel rooms is now 13.25 percent plus $2 per room per night, which is in line with taxes in other major cities, according to the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau. The tax repeal has had some positive impact, said a spokeswoman for the bureau: hotel occupancy for the first five months of 1995 is up 5 percent over the same period in 1994, making this the best start of a year since 1988. The falling crime rate, weakness of the dollar against foreign currencies and easing of the recession have also contributed to the increase in tourism, she said. Reforms at the Javits Center and the hotel tax repeal are "proving that New York wants the business," she said. "We are making the city more affordable, easier to use and more service-oriented." The NYCVB has instituted a toll-free number--1-800-693-7290--exclusively for meeting planners. The bureau will send a meeting planners' information kit and assist in all aspects of organizing conventions, from getting hotel rates or restaurant packages to doing liaison work with convention venues. The bureau also mounted a campaign during the month of May--which was designated as tourism month--to stress to New Yorkers the importance of tourists to the local economy, and in effect, to "show the friendly side of New York." Larkin said the settlement with hotel workers in time to avert a strike before the Fourth of July weekend "continues to maintain the upbeat, positive publicity" about the business atmosphere in Manhattan. "New York is rolling up its sleeves to do business," said Marshall Lester, president of International Fashion Shows, which produces the International Jeanswear and Sportswear Show and Premier Collections. Lester is moving the jeans show here from Miami, after he bought it from The Blenheim Group. "Moving the jeanswear show to Manhattan was a buyer-driven move," he said. "Miami is a great setting for a show, but the problem is that the show is the only thing there. With budgets being so tight these days, buyers get more bang for the buck in Manhattan, because there are the stores, the fabric market and the garment center. It's a bigger business center." He said the labor reforms and cost reductions at the Javits Center, as well as the drop in hotel taxes and enhanced security and cleanliness implemented by the Business Improvement District operations in the garment center, show that the city and state want to encourage more business here. "New York has become more hospitable," he said. "It's too early to estimate the actual cost reductions, but everyone should realize substantial savings." "New York has always been hospitable for trade shows," said Elyse N. Kroll, principal of ENK Productions, "and the newer developments have made it even better." She cited the drop in the hotel tax as positive for increasing tourism and traffic in the city, and "brilliant last-minute maneuvering" to avoid a hotel workers' strike. "But all the hotels were well prepared in the event of a strike," she said. "We all knew what we would do. But that's part of what's great about New York." ENK runs the Accessories Circuit, Intermezzo and Fashion Coterie shows for women, and Designers' Collective and Mode Coast men's wear shows, all at the Plaza Hotel. Kroll said one of her goals has been to broaden the parameters of her shows, to make a trip more efficient and productive for retailers. For example, last January she added the Intermezzo ready-to-wear show, which at the time was called Immediate Collections, to run concurrently with the accessories show. "We did this to give retailers at the accessories show the opportunity to see some ready-to-wear," she said. "They loved it. The manufacturers met retailers they didn't know, and the retailers saw collections they hadn't seen before. "The idea is to make the trips more potent for the buyers, to offer them more of what they need to see." Kroll also sets up trend displays at the registration area for each show, so retailers know what they should be looking for before they get to the rooms. Vincent Schimel, show manager of Private Label Expo, which is produced at the Javits Center, said his company offers a package to its exhibitors. "They walk into a show-ready booth, all they have to do is put up their samples," he said. "The show looks uniform, and it's very easy for the exhibitors. We anticipate that we'll still operate this way, because it's convenient. If the costs to us come down, the costs to our exhibitors will go down." Schimel said the new emphasis on the attitude of the workers is also very important. For instance, now the workers don't expect tips from the exhibitors to do their jobs. He added that airfare discounts or hotel packages are not critical to making a decision whether to attend a show here, but noted that by offering a show-ready booth, out-of-town exhibitors can eliminate one full day that used to be needed for set-up. In October, Schimel is coordinating the Private Label Expo with Larkin's IFFE. The two groups will co-promote and run seminars together. Debra LaChance, owner of the StyleWorks show, said her year-old company has increased its shows to five times a year from three, and the number of exhibitors has risen to 540 from 125 in one year. "Hotels as well as buyers are realizing the importance of the format this type of show provides, particularly for the upscale market," she said. "The services and amenities you get in a hotel are top-notch, and the management really wants to work with you. It's a good way to shop, and a good way to show, because it's like transporting your showroom to the hotel."
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