US: Signs For Optimism As NYC Sees Rise In Tourism
The once-deserted Ferries to the Statue of Liberty are starting to fill back up and people are back to taking selfies with the Charging Bull statue near Wall Street.
Tourists who vanished from New York City's museums, hotels and cultural attractions when the coronavirus pandemic hit a year ago are trickling back in as restrictions loosen.
There's still a long way to go before Times Square and the still-closed theater district are mobbed with international travelers again.
But in recent weeks, indicators like hotel occupancy and museum attendance have ticked up, thanks to domestic travelers and day trippers who don't mind seeing the city operating at less than its usual hectic pace.
In 2019, an estimated 67 million people visited New York city. In 2020, that plummeted to slightly more than 22 million, mostly those who came before the pandemic began ravaging the city in March.
Restaurants and stores were forced to close, as were some hotels, bringing the city's available rooms from 124,000 to 88,000, according to city tourism officials.
But after a moribund year, things are looking up.
"There's a lot of optimism and momentum building, the ship is certainly turning and we feel tourism gradually starting to come back, I think with the lifting of the April 1st, quarantine for domestic travelers, it's been a game changer for New York City tourism and allows us sort of to open the floodgates to welcome more of those U.S. visitors back to our city," said Christopher Heywood with NYC & Company, the city's official marketing, tourism and partnership organization
Ridership is up on the ferries that take visitors from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty, where the grounds and a museum are open even as the interior of the statue remains off limits.
Rafael Abreu, vice president for marketing at Statue Cruises, said it had been "fairly slow" through February, but ridership had risen in March and April to about 25-30% of pre-pandemic times.
City and state officials in recent weeks have also been making moves to open the city up as much as possible and entice visitors to come.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the city's subway system would return to 24-hour operations in mid-May. He also said capacity restrictions on businesses will be lifted, although 6 feet (2 meters) of social distancing space between patrons would still be required.
The Yankees and Mets have been allowed to boost crowd capacity at games, with no restrictions at all on people who can show they have been vaccinated.
Mayor Bill de Blasio last month announced a $30 million tourism marketing campaign that NYC & Company would launch in June, as he called for the city to open fully by July 1.
He also said the city will set up vaccination stations offering free shots to tourists.
Michael Keane, manager at O'Hara's Restaurant and Pub near the World Trade Center site, said things have been looking up after a terrible year for business.
"There's been a lot of people from all over the country the last few weeks and like I said every week you notice more and more tourists coming into the area. So it is getting better here."he said.
He's got his fingers crossed it continues.
Limitations remain. Broadway shows won't start running again until September, at the earliest and the city has seen an up tick in crime.
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