Double-decker sightseeing buses carried fewer than 10 passengers on runs around Manhattan on Monday. Big ferries arrived at the Statue of Liberty with their lower decks nearly empty. Some of the city’s largest hotels had few guests, while others were housing homeless men who had been cleared out of shelters to curb the spread of the virus.
The pandemic triggered a free-fall in tourism to New York City, one of the world’s most popular destinations. A new forecast predicts that the influx of tourists will not fully rebound for at least four years, a somber assessment that reflects one of the biggest challenges to the city’s recovery.
The surge in tourism in recent years has been a vital pillar of the city’s economy, supporting hundreds of thousands of workers across a range of industries, from hotels to restaurants to Broadway.
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New York drew a record 66.6 million visitors in 2019 and was on pace for even more this year, according to the forecast released on Monday by the city’s tourism promotion agency, NYC & Company. Now the city is likely to reach just one-third of last year’s total.
The collapse of tourism has been a key reason that New York’s economy has been hit harder than most other major American cities. Hundreds of restaurants, many of which rely on out-of-town visitors, and several large hotels have closed for good. Before the shutdown in March, the hospitality industry provided as many as 400,000 jobs and drew $46 billion in annual spending.
Seven months later, at the end of October, more than 1.3 million residents were collecting unemployment benefits: The city’s unemployment rate is 14.1 percent, more than double the national rate.
The challenge of luring visitors back to New York in significant numbers could become even greater with the virus surging again. The number of daily cases in the city has surpassed 1,000 for the first time since the spring.
Even when the pandemic ends, the return of international visitors, who stay longer and spend much more than domestic visitors, is likely to be sluggish. The number of foreign tourists in the city is not likely to return to its 2019 level before 2025, the forecast shows.