Tourism — a critical part of New York City’s economy and a lifeblood for industries like Broadway theater — may not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2025, according to a new forecast from NYC & Co.
The city’s tourism, convention and visitors arm predicted in a report Monday that the total number of visits to the city will plunge 66% in 2020. Punctuating the pandemic’s toll on the local economy will be three holiday-season events known for drawing hordes of public spectators: the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting and New Year’s Eve ball drop. All will be held and televised this year, but minus the usual spectacle of crowds packing the streets (and spending money on hotels, meals and merchandise).
In 2019, tourism set a record in New York, with 66.6 million individual trips, generating about $47.4 billion in direct spending in the city. About one-fifth of those visitors came from overseas. This year’s total is projected to be 22.9 million as a result of lockdown measures and travel restrictions that began in March, with visits from outside the U.S. representing less than 10% of the total. The tilt toward Stateside visits is also likely to harm overall revenue, as tourists from abroad typically spend four times what domestic travelers do.
The report was issued on the heels of upbeat results from vaccine trials by Moderna and Pfizer and a renewed sense of optimism for at least the start of a recovery. “With a plan for widespread vaccination taking shape for Q1 2021, the outlook for a pick-up in regional and short-haul domestic travel will begin to lift the levels of visitation in the late spring/early summer,” NYC & Co. said. “If the health breakthroughs align with lifting restrictions on activities and gatherings the pace may move more quickly. The international market will take longer to catch up.”
A return to 2019 levels is possible by 2023, “especially if business travel restrictions affecting large events and meetings are eased in 2022,” the report said. “At the same time, New York City’s strong position with international travelers could help revive the cautious global travel market sooner.” It took four years for international visits to New York to recover after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, officials noted.
In the entertainment and arts realm, theater, opera, live music and comedy have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, along with sporting events. Movie theaters in the city have remained shut, prompting organizers of the New York and Tribeca film festivals to switch to virtual screenings and drive-ins.
Broadway is the most tourist-dependent of any leisure sector in the city. As the pandemic has worn on, the Broadway League has consistently maintained that reopening theaters at anything less than full capacity would not be workable. Producers have instead largely opted to push productions well into the future. News surfaced earlier Monday that Broadway premieres of Tracy Letts’ The Minutes and Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues are now targeting 2022 openings. Paula Vogel’s How I Learned To Drive is now aiming for 2021.
As 2020 began, the Broadway League released findings that emphasized tourism’s importance. Some 2.8 million international visitors attended a show in 2019, an all-time high, the organization said. Ticket-buyers from other countries made up 19% of the total audience, a jump over the 15% recorded in 2018. Attendees from the U.S. outside New York made up 46% of the Broadway audience, compared with 35% from the New York City metropolitan area.
Greg Evans contributed to this report.