‘It’s pretty cool without a lot of people’ – tourists come back to New York


NEW YORK (AP) – The once deserted steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are once again filling with visitors. The hotel lobbies are losing their desolate atmosphere. In the city center, people are starting to take selfies again with the Charging Bull statue near Wall Street.

Tourists who disappeared from New York City museums, hotels and cultural attractions when the coronavirus pandemic hit a year ago are returning as restrictions loosen.

There is still a long way to go before the still-closed Theater District is once again beset with international travelers.

But of late, metrics like hotel occupancy and museum attendance have increased, thanks to domestic travelers and day trippers not afraid to see the city operating at less than its usual hectic pace.

“I always wanted to come to New York City, just because I watched the movies,” said Chazmin Fuhrer, 26, a first-time visitor from Concord, Calif., Who recently came to the city for. a handful of days to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

Lounging at a table in Times Square as three street performers began their dance moves nearby, Fuhrer said she knew it wasn’t as busy as it used to be. But she was okay with it.

“It’s pretty cool without a lot of people,” she said, noting that the pre-pandemic crash of people would likely make her nervous now, with the virus still circulating.

City officials are optimistic even in the aftermath of an incident in Times Square on Saturday when three people – including a child – were injured by stray bullets when a dispute led to gunfire.

“At the end of the day, people want to come to this city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday. “It’s an extremely safe city, when you look at New York compared to cities across the country, around the world.”

In 2019, around 67 million people visited the city. In 2020, that number has dropped to just over 22 million, mostly those who came before the pandemic began to unleash itself in New York City in March.

Restaurants and shops have been forced to close, as have some hotels, pushing the city’s available rooms from 124,000 to 88,000, according to the city’s tourism officials.

On top of that, the unrest over racial injustice in late spring led to two days of destruction and theft of property. As the damage was limited and the cleanup was swift, the city suffered for months of bad press as then-President Donald Trump, eager to disparage his Democratic-ruled hometown, has it publicly. hailed as having succumbed to anarchy.

The daytime shooting in Times Square brought a new round of manual labor.

But after a dying year, things are improving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, has reached 9,000 visitors in recent days. This is still far less than the swarms of 25,000 that once gathered on the busiest days before the pandemic, but far more than what the museum saw when it reopened in late August.

Passenger numbers are on the rise on ferries that take visitors from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty, where the park and a museum are open even as the interior of the statue remains closed.

Rafael Abreu, vice president of marketing at Statue Cruises, said it had been “pretty slow” until February, but passenger numbers increased in March and April to around 25-30% from the pre- pandemic.

The hotel occupancy rate, which was in the 30% range, has been in the range of 50% in recent weeks, said Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, l city ​​tourism agency.

New hotels are opening and the number of rooms is expected to reach 118,000 by the end of the year.

“It’s really wonderful,” Dixon said of the city’s careful awakening. “And so, it gave us a lot of hope.”

The agency forecasts just over 31 million visitors in 2021.

In recent weeks, city and state officials have taken steps to open up the city as much as possible.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that the city’s subway system will return to 24-hour service in mid-May. Business capacity restrictions are lifted, although 6 feet of space between customers will still be required.

The Yankees and Mets have been allowed to increase crowd capacity at games, with no restrictions on who can show they have been vaccinated.

De Blasio announced a $ 30 million tourism marketing campaign last month that NYC & Company will launch in June.

The city and state are also setting up vaccination stations offering free vaccines to tourists.

“We think this is a positive message for tourists. Come here. It’s certain. It’s a great place and we’ll take care of you, ”said de Blasio, a Democrat.

In a city where multitudes depend on tourism for their livelihood, things cannot improve quickly enough.

Michael Keane, owner of O’Hara’s restaurant and pub near the World Trade Center site, said things were improving.

“It has been a slow exploration, but we see more and more tourists every week coming to the area,” he said, noting he was keeping a nervous eye on how the virus continued to ravage other countries. “I can’t imagine going through this again.”

Limitations remain. Broadway shows won’t start again until September. Some attractions require timed reservations to reduce crowds. Others are still closed.

But even though things are moving more slowly, Fuhrer said she was “certainly not disappointed” with her trip.

Back home, “I feel like people are still a little cautious with COVID,” she said. Meanwhile, in New York City, “I feel like everyone here is trying to move their lives forward.”

She and her 23-year-old girlfriend Gabbi Allen, both vaccinated, felt like they were experiencing some of that New York vibe.

“All sirens, all horns,” Allen said.

“People are yelling at each other in the middle of the street,” Fuhrer added.

Lower New York City has actually been wonderful, said Stephanie Piefke, 24, of Atlanta, a recent visitor on sightseeing activities with her friend, first-time visitor Danielle Jenkins.

The women, both vaccinated, told the Empire State Building that there were perhaps a few dozen people walking through a waiting area set up to handle what Piefke said was a “miserable” snake line. .

She didn’t think the quieter New York City would last once the city fully reopened, however.

“You’re all going to be like, ‘Oh my God, they’re here,’” she said, “and it’s going to be like a tsunami of tourists who wanted to come.”

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