Statue of Liberty 4
Despite the impacts of Hurricane Sandy (which damaged and closed the Statue of Liberty), New York City received a record 52 million visitors in 2012. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Hurricane Sandy may have brought “The City That Never Sleeps” to a standstill in 2012, but no “Frankenstorm” could scare visitors away. Far from it: A record-breaking 52 million tourists flocked to New York City last year, a 2.1 percent increase over 2011.

Sandy -- which made traveling through the city all but impossible for several days and damaged many of the city’s iconic structures, including the Statue of Liberty -- appears to have had little impact on the total number of visitors.

“The economy here is so big that it’s really hard to argue that Sandy hurt [tourism],” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference on Monday at the American Museum of Natural History, which itself draws roughly 5 million visitors annually.

Emily Rafferty, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and chairman of NYC & Company’s Board of Directors, said “It’s gratifying that the city continues to attract more visitors each year, impacting every segment of our $55.3 billion tourism industry, from hotels, restaurants and retailers to Broadway, performing arts and culture.”

The mayor created a new municipal marketing model in 2006 that merged NYC & Company with the city’s marketing and big events group. Since then, New York’s share of overseas visitors to the U.S. has increased from 28 to 33 percent, representing 11 million international visitors in 2012. That means one in three international visitors to the U.S. sets foot in the Big Apple -- a figure no other city comes close to matching. Los Angeles, in a distant second, captures just 13 percent of the market.

NYC & Company CEO George Fertitta believes each market share point represents an addition $750 million in direct spending by tourists. To reach its yearly goals, the organization has targeted non-traditional travel markets like China, Brazil and Argentina, which have strong economies and growing middle classes. Visitor numbers from these nations have grown 447, 442 and 258 percent, respectively, since 2006, and NYC & Company now has a presence in a total of 18 global markets.

“For 2013, we have already identified markets with strong future potential and are ramping up our efforts to ensure New York City is their top of mind destination,” Fertitta said.

Other New York City tourism records broken in 2012 include $36.9 billion in direct spending, 29 million hotel room nights and $504 million in hotel tax revenue.

The increase in visitor numbers has prompted a boom in new hotel rooms, which now total about 91,500. Even with the new rooms, New York’s hotel occupancy held strong in 2012 at about 87 percent, higher than anywhere else in the nation.

Tourism is the city’s fifth largest industry, creating jobs for New Yorkers “at all rungs of the economic ladder,” according to Mayor Bloomberg.

The hospitality industry across all five boroughs now employs some 356,000 New Yorkers, whose average annual earnings are higher than $52,000.

By 2015, Mayor Bloomberg expects 55 million visitors a year, who he says will contribute $70 billion in economic impact and create more jobs for New Yorkers.