Tourists are flocking to New York City this winter, a year after the coronavirus kept the vital industry sluggish.
According to the Wall Street Journal, retailers saw their Thanksgiving weekend foot traffic and sales match or exceed pre-pandemic 2019 levels, and the majority of it was driven by tourists. The new stream of visitors come after America reopened its borders to foreign tourists on November 8. International tourists account for 50% of hotel-room nights and overall tourism spending.
Pedestrian traffic on Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center increased 262% from 2020 levels, a spokeswoman for the Fifth Avenue Association told the Journal.
The many areas tourists flock to, from New York City’s famous restaurants to its live entertainment, were shuttered or reduced in 2020, but have since reopened and are operating at full strength. Manhattan theaters were at 80% capacity over Thanksgiving weekend, a promising sign for an industry that generates billions and supports tens of thousands of workers.
An average of 260,000 people passed through Times Square the last weekend in November, double the 129,000 who came in 2020, according to the Times Square Alliance.
Officials said that tourists were confident about travel despite the coronavirus, thanks to the city’s high vaccine rate and proof of vaccination requirement in many venues. Since the emergence of the omicron variant, people are encouraged to mask indoors, but it is not required.
“Here you are, cooped up for a year, and now the entire New York City experience is back,” Ruediger Albers, whose Midtown store sells jewelry and watches, told the WSJ. “The city feels very vibrant.”
The recovery is still partial; office building occupancy is less than 40% of pre-pandemic levels, and commuter rail lines to the city are down 40%, according to the MTA.
Real-estate company CBRE Group expects hotel occupancy will be at 56% by the fourth quarter. The occupancy rate over Thanksgiving weekend was 79%, up from 38% in 2020 but down from 87% in 2019.