Tourism head: Newark can’t beat NYC, but it can join it as part of international vacation

The first rule of being the head of the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau is simple: Don’t compete with New York City.

So said Karin Aaron, the CEO and president of the GNCVB.

“I can’t compete with New York City,” she said. “So, I don’t try to compete with New York City.

“We position Newark as an add-on to New York City. If you’re going to be there seven days, give me two. If you’re going into the port for a cruise, give me one night before or after. We’re trying to position Newark as an add-on to that Broadway visit.”

It’s a message the GNCVB is taking all over the world.

Having Newark on the cover of Hemispheres, the in-flight travel magazine produced by United Airlines, will bring global exposure.

Aaron, however, said her group already is actively pursuing travelers from countries such as Canada, Great Britain, Germany, China and Brazil.

“Our No. 1 international market is the Asian traveler,” she said. “They have a lot of money to spend. They have time. And they’ve already been to the Statue of Liberty.

“So, now they want to do something different. When they come into this region, they want to see some arts, some culture. They want to pick a flower and they want to go on a hike, and they want to learn something new.”

Aaron said her job is to not only pitch that Newark has those things — but that it also has the comforts they like at home.

“For us, it is appealing to what they desire and also making sure that we have the infrastructure, making sure our hotels are China-ready,” she said. “Do you have hot water for tea? Do you have fish on the menu? They tend to take baths more than showers; do your rooms have tubs?

“We really want to customize their experience when they get here.”

In Brazil, the message is simpler.

“It’s Ironbound, sangria and paella,” she said.

Aaron, who came to the GNCVB two years ago, said she is determined to reach more visitors, domestic and abroad.

The GNCVB launched an updated version of its website earlier this month and also produced the first visitors guide to the city.

It’s all in an effort, she said, to let more people know what Newark has to offer.

And, while she knows she cannot compete with New York City, she feels Newark can complement it. And save you money in the process.

“You’ve got the business traveler on the expense account and the family that saved up all year to go on vacation,” she said. “We know that family does not want to spend $400 a night in New York City. My job is to get you here.

“We’re going to get you to the train and you’re going to get in and out of Manhattan. But, if I can get you down to the Grammy Museum, if I can get you to the Ironbound to eat, if I can get you here for Cherry Blossom week, now you got a vacation that’s affordable and still assessable.”

Changing perceptions, she said, can be hard.

She knows that firsthand.

Aaron was born and raised in Newark and went to Hillside High School.

“But, when I left here in 1996, I said, ‘I’m never, ever, ever coming back,’” she said.

Two years ago, she said a recruiter called her.

“He asked me, ‘When was the last time you’ve been to your home city,’” she said. “So, I came up here and said, ‘Oh my gosh, look at this.’”

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