New York City tourism suffered massive decline during pandemic, report shows

New York City Skyline
The skyline of Manhattan as seen on May 29, 2016. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The Travel Trolley)

(The Center Square) – Thanks to COVID-19, New York City saw a decadelong growth streak come to an end as the number of visitors declined by two-thirds and their contribution to the economy dropped even more.

A report by New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Wednesday indicated that just 22.3 million people visited the Big Apple in 2020, down from 66.6 million the year before. Those visitors spent just $13 billion, a 73% decline from the $47.4 billion they spent in 2019.

As a result, the pandemic cost New York City $1.2 billion in tax revenue for the 2021 fiscal year.

In a statement, DiNapoli said visitor traffic is a key indicator of economic health.

“The pandemic’s damage to this industry has been staggering and it may take years before tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “The city and state must help with safe reopening, while targeting relief funds to workers and to hotels, venues, restaurants and other businesses that are unlikely to recover until visitors return.”

Before last year’s cratering, the last time the city saw a decline in number of visitors was 2009. According to data from NYC & Company, the city’s tourism office, the 2020 total was comparable to visitor totals from nearly 30 years ago.

NYC & Company’s forecast doesn’t anticipate a full recovery in the number of visitors until 2024. Still, Donna Keren, the agency’s senior vice president for research and analysis, said in a statement that there’s signs of recovery present for the industry.

“Comptroller DiNapoli’s report highlights just how vital tourism is to all five boroughs of New York City, and is also a sobering reminder of how difficult this pandemic has been for our city’s tourism industry,” Keren said. “It’s also a reminder of the opportunity we have to remind people of the incredible experiences that are waiting for them here.”

In his report, DiNapoli offered several recommendations to help bring visitors back to the city as quickly as possible. That includes marketing to other Americans as they’re most likely to come back first but also create focused campaigns for foreign and business travelers who tend to spend more money than U.S. tourists.

Rich Maroko, president of the Hotel Trades Council, said in a statement that the comptroller’s report shows “the current economic reality” for the city’s tourism industry.

“Tourism is a critical driver of the city’s economy and an essential source of countless middle-class jobs for New Yorkers, including tens of thousands of HTC members,” Maroko said. “Our union is grateful for Comptroller DiNapoli’s thoughtful analysis of the tourism sector as well as his recommendations for prioritizing its recovery and putting New Yorkers back to work.”

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