Friday, September 30, 2022

As tourism grows, Times Square hopes to regain its shine

NEW YORK (AP) – David Cohen yearned to return to the days when business flourished in his family’s gift shop in Times Square.

While tourists have begun to return, pedestrian attendance for Grand Slam souvenirs is still not what it was before the coronavirus pandemic, when hordes of visitors from all over the world thronged under the canopy of electric billboards right outside its door.

But the return of foreign tourists to what is popularly called the crossroads of the world could help accelerate the recovery of businesses like this – many of them family-owned stores – that collectively employ thousands of people and are among the most popular in New York City. important economic engines.

“We welcome their return with open arms,” Cohen said after the US began allowing vaccinated international travelers to enter the country this month. “We have a long way to go.”

Times Square has long been a symbol of the bustle of New York. But when Broadway theaters closed and the city became one of the first epicenters of the global pandemic, 9 out of 10 businesses in the area closed, according to the Times Square Alliance.

“We have truly been a symbol of pandemic and pause to the world,” said Tom Harris, president of the alliance.

Since then, three-quarters of local businesses have reopened gradually, as Broadway shows began to open only to vaccinated audiences.

Among those hopefully relaunching are businesses that don’t directly serve tourists, but are part of the city’s entertainment ecosystem.

Sam Vasili’s Shoe Repair reopened last month across 51st Street from the Gershwin Theater, where it operated for three decades before closing due to the pandemic.

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Owner Sam Smolar was smirking the other day when he shared the news that a Broadway show, due to open nearby, required his help. For years, he helped Rockettes don custom-made boots. “We rely on theater and business here,” he said.

He hopes that the more people buy tickets on Broadway, the harder the time will be.

“It’s getting better,” said Vasily, who employs three people in the store.

Just before the COVID-19 outbreak, New York City recorded a record 66.6 million tourists in 2019, including 13.5 million from outside the United States. The pandemic then caused severe restrictions on travel abroad.

A marketing blitz has been held for months to remind Americans that New York is back for business and ready for the masses. The city is now expanding its work with those outside the United States, who are especially valued because they spend more time and money on their visits.

While domestic travel accounted for 80% of visitors, foreign tourists account for about half of the city’s travel spending and typically account for half of all hotel bookings.

Times Square Alliance’s Harris said the area is already being rebuilt. Since May, the number of pedestrians counted in some locations has grown from 150,000 a day to 250,000 since May – still much less than the roughly 365,000 who roamed the street grid before the pandemic, he said.

“Between the return of Broadway and the return of foreign tourists,” Harris said, “we really expect to hit these numbers before the pandemic, sooner than most people predict.”

Returning visitors included people like Marina Galan, who got wet in Times Square from the stands under a cascade of lights. She and her friends flew to New York from Madrid on the first day the US borders opened to vaccinated tourists.

“When you get back to New York, this is what you want to see,” she said. “Everything is back to normal.”

Her friend Pablo Leon said that he really wanted to return. The group took a risk last March when they bought tickets for the Broadway musical Hadestown, despite not knowing when they would be allowed to travel to the United States.

“It was a real game because we bought tickets for the evening, not knowing if we could come here,” Leon said.

City travel agency NYC & Company is spending millions of dollars overseas to attract tourists. By the end of the year, 2.8 million foreign visitors are projected – a fraction of the 13.5 million who visited in 2019. With the opening of the borders, officials hope that the number of visitors will grow steadily over the next few years and will again reach record levels within the next year. four years.

“We look forward to doing everything we can to expedite this schedule,” said Chris Haywood, executive vice president of the agency.

The campaign is initially targeted at Canada, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and parts of Europe, but will likely expand to other countries – possibly China, a particularly lucrative market because Chinese visitors outnumber visitors from other nationalities.

However, Chinese visitors may choose to stay put due to quarantine requirements at home – for at least two weeks when returning from an overseas trip.

“Day trips and local tourists are helping Broadway, museums and restaurants, but New York will not be able to reach our pre-pandemic visitor level until international tourism returns in full,” said New York State Commander Thomas P. DiNapoli. “Opening America’s borders is a big help, but other factors beyond our control make it difficult to see when we will return to the numbers we had before the world closed.”

Bringing back annual traditions like New York’s Grand Thanksgiving Parade and Times Square New Years Eve could attract more visitors.

New York Governor Katie Hochul also announced a $ 450 million initiative to help revitalize the tourism industry.

The other day, William Brownstein was selling comedy club tickets to passers-by who were now perhaps ready to laugh at months of dark news.

“With all the crazy things going on,” Republicans and Democrats, with pro-vaccine anti-vaccine views, “you should laugh at this,” said Brownstein, who returned from his unplanned hiatus in May, shortly after comedy clubs closed. … allowed to reopen.

“I think we will see a lot more people over time,” he predicted. “It will take a little time, but they will be back as they were before.”

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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