By Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The once-deserted steps outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art are filling up with visitors again. Hotel lobbies are losing their desolate feel. Downtown, people are back to taking selfies with the Charging Bull statue near Wall Street.
Tourists who vanished from New York City’s museums, hotels and cultural attractions when the coronavirus pandemic hit a year ago are trickling back in as restrictions loosen.
There’s still a long way to go before the still-closed theater district is mobbed with international travelers again.
But lately, indicators like hotel occupancy and museum attendance have ticked up, thanks to domestic travelers and day trippers who don’t mind seeing the city operating at less than its usual hectic pace.
“I’ve always wanted to come to New York, just because I’ve watched the movies,” said Chazmin Fuhrer, 26, a first-time visitor from Concord, California, who came into the city for a handful of days recently to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
Lounging at a table in Times Square as three street performers started their dance moves nearby, Fuhrer said she knew it wasn’t anywhere near as busy as usual. But she was OK with that.
“It’s kind of nice without a lot of people out,” she said, noting that the pre-pandemic crush of people would probably now make her nervous, with the virus still circulating.
City officials are optimistic, even in the wake 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.
“In the end, people want to come to this city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. “It is an overwhelmingly safe city, when you look at New York City compared to cities around the country, around the world.”
In 2019, an estimated 67 million people visited the city. In 2020, that plummeted to slightly more than 22 million, mostly those who came before the pandemic began rampaging in New York in March.
Restaurants and stores were forced to close, as were some hotels, bringing the city’s available rooms from 124,000 to 88,000, according to city tourism officials.
On top of that, unrest over racial injustice in late spring led to two days of property destruction and stealing. While the damage was limited and cleanup quick, the city suffered through months of bad press as then-President Donald Trump, eager to bash his Democrat-run hometown, publicly smeared it as having succumbed to anarchy.
The daytime Times Square shooting brought a fresh round of handwringing.
But after a moribund year, things are looking up. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, has reached 9,000 visitors on some recent days. That’s still far less than the swarms of 25,000 who once packed in on the busiest days pre-pandemic, but far more than the museum was seeing when it reopened in late August.
Ridership is up on the ferries that take visitors from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty, where the grounds and a museum are open even as the statue’s interior remains off limits.
Rafael Abreu, vice president for marketing at Statue Cruises, said it had been “fairly slow” through February, but ridership had risen in March and April to about 25-30% of pre-pandemic times.
Hotel occupancy, which had been running in the 30% range, has been in the 50% range over the last few weeks, said Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, the city’s tourism agency.
New hotels are opening, and the number of rooms is expected to reach 118,000 by year’s end.