MIDTOWN — The 50.2 million tourists expected in the Big Apple by the end of 2011 will break the city's records for visitors in a single year, officials announced Tuesday.
To mark the miletsone, the mayor anointed newlyweds Craig Johnson, a carpenter, and Lucy Foulger, a stay-at-home mother of two, visiting from Lichfield, England, as the honorary 50 millionth visitors of the year.
"While playing host to the world isn't new for us, the number of visitors we're welcoming in recent years is news," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who announced the tally Tuesday in the middle of Times Square, with fanfare that would have made Willy Wonka —and Oprah — proud.
Bloomberg presented them with a “golden ticket" that came with enough loot to make Foulger’s jaw drop, including a $10,000 Amex gift card, thousands more to spend at local stores and restaurants, free tickets to a Broadway show and a performance by the Radio City Rockettes, and a $10,000 return visit to celebrate their one-year anniversary in 2012.
"Thank you! Just amazing. There’s not words to say how shocked we are," gushed Foulger, 32, who was later joined on stage by daughter, Grace, 3, and son, Thomas, 1.
The couple had just exchanged vows an hour earlier early atop Rockefeller Center, fulfilling Foulger’s dream to get married here.
“I always knew from the moment I came here I wanted to get married here. I [just] didn’t know it would be with Craig!” she said.
While Bloomberg acknowledged there was no real way to pick out the true 50 millionth visitor to the city, staff at tourists spots had been on the lookout for a "perfect family" — preferably one from a faraway place where others might be swayed to plan their own visits after seeing the story written up in local papers, the mayor explained.
The city has been working hard to attract high-spending foreign tourists, which made up a large chunk of this year's rise, with 10.1 million visitors — a 4 percent bump from last year. One million came from the Johnson’s native U.K. alone.
The city also welcomed more than 40 million domestic visitors, about 1 million more than last year — helping to reach its 50 million visitor goal a year ahead of a fast-tracked schedule that had originally been set for 2015.
The mayor credited the bump to NYC & Company, the city's tourism wing, which has worked aggressively to court visitors from around the world, with marketing campaigns, including promotions with local tour companies and airlines.
The numbers have also been fueling a huge hotel building boom across the city, with 90,000 rooms expected by the end of the year and thousands more in the pipeline.
And while some might not be the biggest fans of more slow-moving tourists clogging the streets, Bloomberg stressed that visitors are expected to drop $32 billion in the city this year, which trickles through to business across the boroughs.
“It means more guests in our hotels, more shoppers in our stores, larger audiences in our museums and theater, more diners in our restaurants ... more economic growth and — what’s really important in the city — more tax revenues and more jobs,” he said.