Tourism Rebound Hampered as Omicron Wave Persists Across New York City

By Phoebe Miller Westport, Connecticut

Empty benches at the Statue of Liberty, a popular tourist attraction in NYC. (The New York Times / Victor Blue)

New York City is once again feeling the impacts of COVID-19 reverberate across its tourism landscape, as the surge of disease due to the Omicron variant subsides. Many industries had to cancel events that would previously draw tourists to the city, one of which being Broadway show productions. Many performances, such as Hamilton, were closed through Christmas, while others such as Waitress announced they were shutting down permanently. Many shows that were able to hold performances were filling their seats at far lower capacity rates, with Phantom of the Opera having a capacity rate of only 54% during the week ending Jan. 9, according to Broadway News. Restaurants have also been detrimentally affected by the Omicron variant, as the holiday season that would have normally boosted visiting rates to NYC fell short, and meal outings plummeted. Since January is generally the slowest month for tourism in the city, the surge increasingly affected the amount of customers that restaurants were serving. “The general sentiment of what I’m hearing is that so many restaurants and nightlife venues are extraordinarily slow, and it’s extra tough this year because they lost so much holiday business they were counting on,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, according to TheCity. However, as rates of Omicron in NYC have plunged, hotel occupancy is rising from lows they hit during the peak of the Omicron wave, especially with the outlook that a growing number of people are taking that Americans must learn to live with the virus. NYU professor Sean Hennessey spoke on this increase of relaxation in following of COVID rule rigidity, according to The New York Times, saying that, “Tourists or leisure travelers are returning pretty much in force, and amazingly enough, they are in many cases willing to pay more for a night’s room than they were prior to Covid.” COVID cases in NYC have continued to decline since the beginning of the New Year, dropping 90% over the past several weeks, with a 1.8% 7-day positivity rate as of Feb. 25. Billions of dollars have been lost over the course of the pandemic due to the reduced numbers in the tourist industry, and the city still has a long road ahead to return traveler numbers to their pre-pandemic levels. Still, many tourists remained unfazed by the new variant, especially since it is said to have less severe effects than previous variants, said the CEO of Kayak Steve Hafner, a travel and rental search engine, according to a Reuters article. “People are very resilient, and that's what we've seen in the numbers. So as soon as the government lets them do stuff, they're going to go out there and get it done, and there's no better place to do it than New York City.”