People have long traveled from all over the world to experience the glitz and bustle of New York City during the holidays. But for three years, that influx of visitors — and their open wallets — has been diminished, thanks to the impact of Covid.
A look around the city at the beginning of this season, however, showed miraculous signs of life: crowded streets in Manhattan, a steady flow of shoppers in stores, impossible-to-get reservations at popular restaurants, full hotels. Things aren’t quite back to where they were before the pandemic, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
For one thing, there are just more people coming across the bridges and through the tunnels. In November, on Fifth Avenue, foot traffic increased 17.9 percent over the year before, according to Placer.ai, which tracks consumer data. That’s a reversal from this time last year when the street, whose tenants include Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany and the LEGO Store, saw foot traffic fall compared to 2021.
Fifth Avenue on a late November night.
Local residents may gripe about them, but New York City’s economy needs those tourists. In 2019, the city had a record 66.6 million visitors, which dipped to just 22.3 million in 2020. This year, though, that number is expected to reach about 60 million, according to New York City Tourism + Conventions, a marketing organization that promotes tourism in the city’s five boroughs. And hotels are filling up. Preliminary data from November shows that occupancy at the city’s hotels was at 84.2 percent, up 6.2 percent from 2022.
International travelers, who stay longer and spend more, are particularly important, making up about a fifth of total visitors.
At Macy’s in Herald Square — which bills itself as the largest department store in the country — sales to those overseas tourists rolled back during Covid, but in the third quarter, they started to approach prepandemic levels, a representative for the retailer said, driven by a rise in shoppers from Latin and Central America and parts of Europe.
People travel from across the world to say they bought something from New York’s luxury shops, and those shoppers are back. For retailers, it’s an achievement to have a store among the corridors of Herald Square, SoHo and Fifth Avenue. But storefront rents across all of the city’s shopping districts are still showing the effects of those weeks and months when stores were dark or closed; they are down more than 15 percent from prepandemic levels.
Some micro-neighborhoods are rebounding faster than others, though. On Fifth Ave from 42nd to 49th Streets, storefront rents are going up and availability is down. But between 49th and 60th streets (where rents are much, much higher already), the opposite is true.
People also come to New York City to eat, at Michelin-star restaurants, food carts and hole-in-the-wall haunts.
This year, dining has increased 4 percent compared to the year before, according to OpenTable, an online reservation service (It’s still down 14 percent compared to 2019.)
The last week in December is one of the busiest weeks for Broadway. The industry has not yet restored itself to prepandemic levels, but attendance this season is up 2.4 percent over last season, and there are indications that this holiday period will be strong.
The show goes on. And holiday visitors, just like the hometowners rushing to holiday parties or home from work, become part of the spectacle.
Michael Paulson contributed reporting.