A year after the arrival of the pandemic, tourists, especially foreigners, have not yet returned to New York; in the meantime, many New Yorkers take the opportunity to discover, or rediscover, the emblematic places of the city, which they had avoided until now.
It is 10:00 am this Friday at Liberty Island and there are barely a dozen in front of the Statue of Liberty, scattered over more than 100 meters of promenade. There are still two years, even in this traditionally slack period before spring, it is a hundred tourists that the island would have already seen pass.
New York student Alexander Lumbres has been there nearly 20 times, but he had never seen it. Before, “it was really complicated. We would go behind (the statue) to have a correct photo with the family.”
Last year, New York welcomed about a third of the tourists it received in 2019 (34%), “and most of it goes back to the first quarter, before the pandemic”, acknowledges Christopher Heywood, vice president of NYC & Company, the city’s tourist office.
These days, 90% of visitors to the Metropolitan Museum come from the area, according to a spokesperson, when they are usually less than half.
NYC & Company, which cut its workforce by almost half with the pandemic for lack of budget, set up the “All In NYC” campaign (Banco sur New York) to encourage New Yorkers to travel to their own city, which remains the most cosmopolitan in the world.
The return to life “will start with New Yorkers,” he said.
“When you live here, you don’t pay attention” to the iconic places and monuments that make you dream elsewhere, explains Darlene Vann, a soldier stationed in the region for a year and who had never come to see the Statue of Liberty.
Usually, “New Yorkers are notorious for not moving to places like this,” confirms Jerry Willis of the National Park Service, the government agency that manages national parks and sites.
– Strongly the “tumult” –
Darlene’s husband Jay Vann prefers outdoor venues over closed spaces, “because they limit the gauge” indoors. Added to this is the reluctance of some linked to the pandemic, despite compliance with strict health protocols.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, the Observatory of the Empire State Building recorded a drop of 94% in the number of visitors compared to the same period of 2019, despite having been open during these three months.
At the 9/11 Memorial, only a few dozen people walk the immense esplanade where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood 20 years ago.
During the first years of the new site, many New Yorkers avoided the place, too crowded, to the point that the Memorial launched, in 2016, a specific communication campaign, “Our City. Our Story”.
Janice Ryan lost a friend on September 11, 2001. Today, she came to find her name in the list engraved along the two large pools installed where the 1 and 2 World Trade Center were located.
“It was easier for me to come today, because it was so crowded before the pandemic,” she says. “I wasn’t going, because it’s so hard. I don’t know how you can come here and not feel like it just happened.”
Mark Robinson also remembers “9/11”. He was in New York. But this theater director often comes to “Ground Zero” to recharge his batteries. “Normally I wouldn’t have come on a Friday, but the streets are deserted” in lower Manhattan.
The sixty-year-old appreciates the breathing of the city where he settled in 1982, but he would have nothing against a little more animation.
“It is really time that we find the tumult and bustle of the city,” adds Jay Vann. “We loved it when we lived here (for the first time), younger.”
With the reopening to the public of some theaters, including Madison Square Garden, and that of cinemas in addition to museums, Christopher Heywood detects “positive indicators”. “It’s gradual, but we are seeing signs of recovery.”
Turning? Broadway, probably not until September. “It will be the catalyst we need,” he said, “to send the signal to the world that New York is waiting for you.”
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