Tourism, Engine for N.Y.C. Economy, May Not Fully Recover Until 2025

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Tourism in New York City will need at least four years to recover from the free-fall triggered by the pandemic, according to a new forecast from the city’s tourism promotion agency, a somber assessment that reflects the major obstacles to the city’s economic recovery.

The return of international visitors, who stay longer and spend much more than domestic visitors, will be even slower, the agency forecasts. The number of foreign tourists in the city is not likely to return to its 2019 level before 2025, the forecast shows.

“It’s going to be a very slow build initially,” said Fred Dixon, the chief executive of the agency, NYC & Company.

Mr. Dixon said the rebound hinges on the distribution of an effective vaccine, which public health officials have said could happen by late spring or early summer. Until then, the flow of visitors will remain at a trickle, he said.

Tourism had been one of the engines powering New York City’s economy through a boom that ended abruptly in March when the pandemic forced the shutdown of most businesses. New York drew a record 66.6 million visitors in 2019 and was on pace for even more this year, Mr. Dixon said. Now the city may only get one-third as many visitors as it did last year.

The industry is critical to the city, providing as many as 400,000 jobs and drawing $46 billion in spending, by NYC & Company’s estimates. The wipeout of tourism has devastated several other sectors of the economy, including hotels, restaurants and Broadway theaters.

Leisure and business travel skidded to a standstill in mid-March and has been on hold since then. NYC & Company estimates that 12 million people visited the city this year before the shutdown and the total in the ensuing nine months may only reach 10 million, a figure that includes all of the nurses and other essential workers who arrived in response to the coronavirus crisis.

NYC & Company counts all overnight guests and anybody who travels from more than 50 miles away as a visitor. After the shutdown, the agency abandoned its forecast for this year and beyond. Its new forecast calls for 38.2 million visitors in 2021, rising to 69 million by 2024.

But fewer than 5 million of those projected 2021 visitors will come from outside the country, the forecast shows. And by 2024, that number will not have returned to the 13.5 million international visitors the agency counted in 2018 and 2019.

The typical international visitor spends four times as much money during a visit as the typical domestic visitor does, Mr. Dixon said.

Given that the country’s borders have largely been closed since April, virtually all of those arriving in the city since then have been domestic visitors. In late summer, adventurous tourists began to dribble back, mostly for short weekend stays, Mr. Dixon said. But hotel industry officials said the quarantine restrictions imposed on visitors from most states by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suppressed that activity.

Mr. Dixon said he expects the current pattern to hold beyond midyear because international travel will be slower to recover and there will be spirited competition among many destinations for the first wave of people to leave their home countries. The recovery will be complicated by the dilemma businesses and performing-arts organizations will face in deciding whether to reopen to lure visitors or wait for them to reappear, he said.

Broadway has repeatedly extended the length of time it will remain closed. The earliest theaters are expected to open is May 30.

“Many look at Broadway as the dinner bell,” Mr. Dixon said. “As soon as that dinner bell rings, people are going to come far and wide.”

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