Justus Dillon, a resident of Hattiesburg, Miss., had never been to New York City before. But she recently decided to join a friend for a first-ever trip.
“I’m loving the city so far,” said Ms. Dillon, 19 years old, as she took in the scene from Times Square earlier this week. She added that “even the small things have been cool…Like the subway. I never rode a subway before.”
After a pandemic-ravaged year in which tourists largely stopped coming to New York at different points, the city is starting to see an uptick in visitors like Ms. Dillon, according to various sources. STR, a data firm that tracks the hospitality industry, said that the city’s hotel occupancy reached 47% for the week that ended March 13, the highest weekly figure since last June. For the month of January, occupancy was at 38%.
The Times Square Alliance, a nonprofit group that oversees the area, reports an increase in foot traffic as well. Recently, 115,000 people have come through the tourist mecca a day, an increase of 15% over the daily traffic since September.
Of course, the numbers pale in comparison with the pre-Covid era. Hotel occupancy was 87.1% for a comparable week in March 2019, according to STR. And before the pandemic, 365,000 people visited Times Square daily. But Tom Harris, acting president and chief operating officer of the Times Square Alliance, is buoyed by what he sees and, in turn, what it holds for the future.
“I think the best is yet to come,” he said.
Tourism has become an increasingly important driver of the New York economy. The city welcomed a record 66.6 million visitors in 2019, according to NYC & Company, the city’s official tourism organization. In 2020, that figure fell to 22.3 million because of the pandemic, but NYC & Company has projected it will increase to 36.4 million in 2021, which suggests the current uptick is no fluke.
Several factors are playing into what has happened in recent days, say tourism officials and those who work in the local hospitality industry. Key among them is the increasing pace of the country’s vaccination program, which is giving Americans confidence about their ability to travel. Foreign tourism remains a weak spot, however, and isn’t expected to pick up significantly until after 2021.
Setting the stage for a continued rise in tourism over the coming weeks is New York state’s decision to end the requirement, as of April 1, that domestic travelers quarantine themselves upon arrival to the state.
Several hotels in the city that closed during the pandemic have announced plans to reopen soon, such as the Mandarin Oriental, New York, located at Columbus Circle, and Ace Hotel New York, situated in Manhattan’s NoMad neighborhood.
New lodgings are also coming on board. Hyatt Hotels Corp. has plans to open three new hotels in the city between summer and early 2022. Among them: the Hyatt Regency JFK at Resorts World, a 400-room property at the namesake Queens casino that is near John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The Times Square area will also see a Margaritaville Resort opening during the late spring. The $300 million property, with 234 rooms, is part of the paradise-themed brand inspired by the singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett. Officials with the resort say they have been receiving a steady stream of reservations, with bookings already in place for the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration.
For New York’s tourism to fully rebound, many in the hospitality industry say it will be contingent on Broadway theaters reopening, since the shows have always been a magnet for out-of-towners. New York state hasn’t yet given the theaters the go-ahead to open at 100% capacity and Broadway producers say they can’t operate financially at anything less than that. Still, producers are anticipating they will be allowed to do so by the fall or winter.
Meanwhile, there is hope in the tourism industry that New York offers enough to attract visitors, especially since museums are open, albeit with limited capacity, and restaurants are able to offer indoor dining once again.
Patrick McNamee, an owner of the Mean Fiddler, a drinking and dining spot in Times Square, opened his establishment this week for the first time in months. He said the traffic in the area wasn’t significant last fall, prompting him to close in October, but the situation is quickly changing.
“You can definitely see it,” he said.
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Source: WSJ – US News