As New York City struggles to revive its economy from the ravages of the pandemic, one key piece is still missing: overseas tourists who spend a lot.
Before the coronavirus arrived, the city was inundated with record numbers of visitors from Europe, Asia and South America. They have filled hotels, restaurants, theaters and museums on Broadway, spending billions of dollars and fueling a wave of jobs for local residents.
Now that the federal government has decided to open the country’s borders to vaccinated visitors on November 8, New York City is preparing its most aggressive campaign to attract them quickly – in time to save, if it can, the end of the year holiday season.
While visitors from across the United States have returned to the city, the absence of foreign tourists has left a gaping hole in the city’s economy as they tend to stay longer and spend more money. .
Although many New Yorkers are sometimes cranky towards tourists, they have played a vital role in the growth of employment in the city. According to economists, the tourism industry has created a large pool of middle-income jobs, the vast majority of which do not require a university degree.
Before the pandemic, tourists spent $ 47 billion a year and supported more than 280,000 jobs, according to official estimates. About half of this spending came from international visitors, although they only represent 20 percent of all visitors.
This year, the city’s tourism agency is forecasting visitor spending of around $ 24 billion, half of the 2019 total.
NYC & Company has lowered its forecast slightly to 34.6 million visitors this year, including only 2.8 million from outside the country. That’s just over half of the record totals in 2019, when there were nearly 67 million visitors, including 13.5 million from outside the country, according to estimates from tourism agencies.
Today, the agency plans to spend $ 6 million on an international “It’s Time for New York” campaign in eight countries. He’s already getting the word out on billboards in London and a few other cities from “New York City Misses You Too” to “New York City Is Ready for You”.
Fred Dixon, managing director of NYC & Company, said it would take years to recover all the lost tourism, but the campaign could help. âThere is a huge pent-up demand and people are eager to travel again,â he said.
Many New York businesses and workers say their survival depends on the robust return of international visitors.
âWe hope the city will try to bring back these international tourists because they are our lifeline,â said Mohammed Rufai, an immigrant from Ghana who sells tickets in Times Square for a double-decker bus tour of Manhattan. “We need them.”
Mr Rufai, 45, said he could earn $ 200 a day before the pandemic, more than 70% of which comes from sales to tourists from England, Mexico and other parts of the world. He’s now struggling to do half of that.
âYou can’t ask people to come up if there is no one here to ask,â he said.
The lack of tourists during the pandemic devastated the city’s hospitality industry, shutting down dozens – several of them permanently – and putting thousands of people out of work for more than a year.
Some, like the Midtown Hilton, the city’s largest hotel, just reopened this month in anticipation of increased tourism spurred by the return of Broadway shows and the holiday shopping season.
The performing arts and hospitality industries have also suffered significant losses and rampant unemployment without the usual flocks of tourists. Hundreds of restaurants in New York City have closed permanently during the pandemic, and the city’s unemployment rate is still 10.2%, compared to 4.8% nationally.
Since the Biden administration announced the lifting of restrictions, 75% of new bookings at three Moxy hotels in Manhattan have come from Europe, said Mitchell Hochberg, president of Lightstone, the real estate company that operates them. Mr Hochberg said he is now considering reopening some of the restaurants and bars inside the hotels earlier than planned.
âIt’s something we’ve been waiting for,â he said. âNeighborhoods like Times Square and Herald Square are suffering because a lot of people haven’t returned to work, and those neighborhoods could be activated with more tourists. ”
But an influx of international tourists could compound the challenges businesses face with labor shortages and global supply chain delays.
Mr Hochberg said the hotel was ready to accommodate an increase in visitors, despite supply chain issues that prompted Moxy to switch shampoo suppliers and lead to a temporary shortage of linens, towels and toiletries. air conditioning parts. The hotel, like companies in the hospitality industry, has also struggled to fill its vacancies, which means employees may have to work longer hours this holiday season.
Hotels and restaurants received a boost this fall with the reopening of Broadway theaters, which had been dark since March 2020. The Broadway League, a trade association whose members include theater owners and producers, did has not released weekly sales or attendance data since then, but Charlotte St. Martin, the group’s president, said most of the 77 performances in September were sold out or nearly sold out.
During the 2018-19 Broadway season, a record 2.8 million international visitors attended a show, accounting for 19% of total attendance that year, according to the Broadway League.
âSince the reopening of Broadway, it’s really helping,â said John Fitzpatrick, owner of two hotels in Midtown. âBut we need international travelers. They come during the week, they stay longer and they have an expense report.
The diamond district of Midtown Manhattan used to draw tourists to a show or to Rockefeller Center. Local store owners say loose diamonds are cheaper in the diamond district than in Europe, a discount that has drawn tourists from Britain, Italy and France. Without them, many stores have relied heavily on their wholesale business and online sales.
âNo one could have survived last year in Manhattan if they relied on international tourism as a big percentage of their income,â said Ari Minnetyan, co-owner of Delicate Gem in the Diamond District.
At City Cruises, which operates ferries to the Statue of Liberty, domestic tourists have helped make up for the loss of international visitors, said Kevin Rabbitt, managing director of its parent company, Hornblower Group. But business for statues cruises is still down 50%, he said.
“We are delighted with the opening of the borders,” said Mr. Rabbitt. “We are very optimistic about what will happen in New York.”
To stimulate the return of tourists, NYC & Company is partnering with foreign airlines like British Airways and major tour operators in countries that have been trusted sources of visitors including England, Germany and Brazil. The advertising campaign will also take place this year in Canada, Mexico, France, Italy and South Korea.
Claire Bentley, chief executive of British Airways Holidays, said the company saw a 130% increase in searches for trips to New York within hours of announcing the border reopening.
“We know there is a strong pent-up demand from UK travelers for vacations to the United States,” she said.
But Tilo Krause-DÃ¼now, managing director of Canusa, a major tour operator in Hamburg, Germany, said he believed “these expectations may be higher than reality.” He said the Germans he spoke to were anxious to visit New York but remained unsure of the vaccination rules. Most, he said, had already made plans for the vacation and would postpone their visit to New York City until the spring or next summer.
That would be bad news for Daniel Zambrzycki, who said he paid $ 50,000 a month to rent Gifts On The Square, a Seventh Avenue gift shop that sells I â¥ NY T-shirts and snow globes. Mr Zambrzycki, 56, said his income had fallen by more than 70%.
âWe have no more Europeans now. Literally there isn’t, âhe said, explaining why it now closes before 10pm instead of 1am as it once did. “What’s the point of staying open if no one is coming?”
Many of his clients were from Mexico and countries in South America, he said, and they often bought hats, mugs or key chains as gifts for loved ones back home.
âIf they don’t come back, I don’t know what we’re going to do,â he said. âIt’s a scary thing to think about. It’s a big question mark.
Chelsia Rose Marcius and Matt Stevens contributed reporting.