TRAVEL; Eat, Surf and Be Merry
Planning to answer your e-mail while on holiday in New York? That may not be easy. The Internet may have been invented in the United States, but America is one of the least likely places where a traveler might find an Internet cafe. "Every major city in the world has more cybercafes than New York," says Joie Kelly, who runs CyberCafeGuide.com. The numbers seem to bear her out: according to various directories, London has more than 30, Paris 19, Istanbul 17, but New York has only eight. Other U.S. cities fare just as poorly: Los Angeles has about 11, Chicago has four. "Here it's quite hard work to find a cafe. I was surprised," says Michael Robson, a sportswriter from York, England, who was visibly relieved to be checking his e-mail at Cyber Cafe near New York's Times Square.
Why the lack of places to plug in? Americans enjoy one of the highest rates of Internet access from work and home in the world, and they've never really taken to cafes. About 80 percent of Cyber Cafe's clients, for instance, are tourists from overseas. Greek tycoon Stelios Haji-Ioannou also thinks high prices drive away locals. Last November he opened a branch of his Internet-cafe chain easyEverything in Times Square. With 800 terminals, it's the largest Net cafe in the world. While the typical American cafe charges $8 to $12 an hour, easyEverything charges $1 to $4. Marketing manager Stephanie Engelsen says half the cafe's customers are locals. "We get policemen, firemen, nurses who don't work at desks with computers, actors between auditions." easyEverything is now planning to open new locations in Harlem, and possibly SoHo. Unless there's some cultural shift afoot, however, New York will continue to lag behind metropolises from Mexico City to Moscow.