New York’s bustling tourism industry continues to rebuild from the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, tourism in the city virtually stopped overnight. Attractions closed, Broadway shuttered, and many local businesses in popular tourist districts also closed. Nobody was really prepared for what was going to happen in the five boroughs.
“We thought it was another crisis that we were going to get through quickly. To be honest, we had no idea what long-term nature this would take. We had no idea it would be a protracted crisis,” said Chris Heywood, Executive Vice President, Global Communications at NYC & Company. “We had no anticipation on this, we thought it would be short term when we saw things deteriorating, we thought in June 2020 things would be back to normal.”
“It happened so fast on Broadway, we literally started hearing about it one week and closed the next week. People were starting to cancel their tickets and wanting exchanges and refunds,” Charlotte St. Martin said. , president of the Broadway League. “I don’t think it was even in New York or upstate New York, it was always a West Coast problem. Within a week [New York City] has become the center of COVID.
Organizations like NYC & Company and The Broadway League have sprang into action, proposing ways to keep employees, performers and tourists safe during the outbreak. This was a marked difference from the previous year – in 2019, NYC & Company found that New York City peaked in tourist traffic with 66.6 million visitors, from both national and international travelers. What was once a generator of jobs and revenue for the city is gone in an instant.
Fast forward to 2022, and New York tourism has continued to rebound, with many more in-person experiences reopening to the public (though many virtual options are still readily available). According to Heywood, small businesses associated with the tourism industry, such as local restaurants, have suffered the most, and NYC & Company is working to give those businesses a much-needed boost.
“Tourism is a five borough phenomenon, a lot of these small businesses all over the city have been really devastated. Our hotels, restaurants, everyone has been devastated,” Heywood said. “I’m thinking from iconic institutions and hotels to small businesses, but there seems to be more pain and suffering among small businesses. It’s something we’re really trying to create more opportunities for in our recovery.
New York City as a whole has seen a gradual return to tourism, most of which is driven by domestic travelers. With each new variant, tourism took a kind of hit. Things are moving forward to the Omicron variant, which once again turned off the light of touring.
Either way, the city is rebounding at a staggering rate in 2022, compared to New York two years ago.
“His fascinating to see the city come alive at the pace it has, I think it’s been a fierce wake-up call. You see that weekend foot traffic really increases. You see restaurants filling up, and with hotels, we’ve seen the numbers over the last four weeks go up,” Heywood said. “The week ending January 29 was at 42% occupancy, and the week ending February 26 went to 61.6% occupancy. You can see that in almost a month, less than a month, the occupancy rate has increased by almost 20%. It’s significant, it shows you the stamina of a place like New York and the pent-up demand that’s going to be fulfilled.
On the other hand, Broadway came back strong and only a few brief stops when the Omicron variant appeared.
“We were very pleasantly surprised by the pent-up demand when we opened in September and have continued to grow. Before omicron, we had on average on a weekly basis 85% of the seats occupied in our cinemas, even when we had 35 shows at the same time. Last week, we had 92% of all seats occupied for the 19 shows we host,” St. Martin said. “We have served over 4 million spectators since we opened last fall. We expect that to continue to be a bit up, a bit down, but we expect over 85% of seats to be filled by the end of this season on May 22. »
Broadway currently has 19 shows running with 16 more scheduled to open in the coming weeks, and with vaccination and mask mandates in place for concertgoers, Broadway is seeing a steady comeback.
“We were very pleasantly surprised by the number of spectators who bought their tickets once we needed vaccines and masks,” St. Martin said. “We really didn’t know what was going to happen, but what happened was people wanted to know if they were sitting in a room with someone who was vaccinated and wearing their mask.”
As New York City continues to recover, the mask and vaccination mandates put in place by the city have since been lifted, with businesses still able to meet the mandates independently. Broadway will continue to honor the mandates through April and will provide one month’s notice prior to any updates in this regard.
“We said from day one that the most important thing for us was to keep the cast team and the public safe, and that’s still the case. And it worked because of those 4 million of viewers, we’ve never been accused of creating COVID or being a super broadcaster and that’s because we’ve been super conservative,” St. Martin said. “We have a protocols committee made up of representatives from the theater that makes the decision based on the latest scientific evidence I think everyone would like to stop wearing the mask but they would also like to be safe so ideally we will feel comfortable and be able to list some of those protocols by May 1, but we don’t know yet.
Either way, Heywood thinks lifting the mandates can help New York tourism as a whole by giving people permission to travel again.
“Each step of our recovery signals to visitors and consumers that it is okay to travel again. I think it serves to give people permission to move on with their lives, to have a sense of normalcy. Once they have that permission, so to speak, to travel again and do the things they want the world is their oyster and New York is the perfect destination,” Heywood said. “There is going to be a transition in a few months, where organizations will continue to demand [vaccines and masks]. I think lifting these restrictions is a psychological step for people that really gives them permission to continue travelling. What many have not been able to do for two years.
It may be some time before tourism reaches the heights it had before the pandemic. NYC & Company predicts that 85% of peak attendance in 2019 will return with 56.6 million visitors by the end of 2022, which will be driven by a strong domestic market of 48.4 million travelers and 8.1 million international visitors. The organization predicts that a full rebound in international and business travel will take longer but is within reach in 2024 and 2025.
However, with Broadway bouncing back as strongly as it has, things are definitely looking up.
“Broadway and tourism in New York are linked, 80% of people who come to New York for pleasure rank Broadway as the #1 or #2 reason to come to the city,” said St. Martin. “We are important to the city and the city’s tourism efforts are critical to our success.”
One thing is certain, those who bet against New York will be seriously mistaken.
“Anyone who wants to write New York’s obituary is not going to be successful. We’ve seen that happen during the pandemic, people have moved, people have bet against New York, and it’s not a good thing to do because New York always comes back,” Heywood said. “New York City is resilient, and I think this will be the year of NYC, the year of recovery. I think two years has been a long time for people. Vaccination rates are high, we’ve pushed this virus back, I think people are ready to move forward and they’re ready to live.