editorial | City must relieve hotels as New York tourism continues to recover
As mask prescriptions and vaccination mandates begin to roll back, it can be easy to think life is about to return to normal – or the closest thing to normal in a post-COVID world. . But for the host of industries that rely on the city’s $22 billion-a-year tourism — including restaurants and bars, Broadway theaters, hotels, and tour and charter buses — it’s not yet. reality.
The number of visitors coming to New York is still remarkably down from 2019. NYC & Company – the city’s travel agency – has lowered its forecast for tourists traveling to New York in 2022. They originally forecast 57, 8 million visitors this year – already nearly 10 million lower than pre-pandemic rates – and they are now forecasting over a million fewer visitors than their original estimate.
We are also seeing this in the coach tour industry: bus tour bookings are only just beginning to return, with bus companies now only seeing 10-20% of 2019 levels. Current bookings for conferences, conventions and tour packages remain extremely low compared to pre-COVID bookings. While this is still up from the zero bookings we’ve seen for most of the pandemic, it’s still a dire situation.
The business travel and international tourism that bring so much revenue to the city has been non-existent and has yet to return. This means there are no shuttles from airports, convention centers, hotels, tourist attractions or Broadway.
Hotels have also been affected by the lag in tourism: before Omicron, hotel industry occupancy rates were expected to fully recover by 2025; now it could be even longer. More than 125 hotels have closed permanently. Before the pandemic, the hospitality industry employed more than 50,000 people — who are mostly immigrants and people of color — and only 20,000 of those high-paying jobs have returned. And now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine leading to fuel costs and security fears, there are even fewer hotel bookings and cancellations, which is just a kick more for the recovery of the industry.
Hotels are the backbone of the city’s tourism industry. But without a chance for tourism to recover in the near future, the industry will continue to suffer, bleeding good-paying jobs and hotels where tourists can stay – and this will cause repercussions in other industries that depend on tourism, including the buses. The hotels need some form of government assistance if they – and the city’s economy as a whole – are going to survive.
To provide real relief to hotels, the City must reduce property assessments to match the reality and burden faced by hotels in other major cities; cancel interest payments on hotels that cannot pay taxes for the next few years; and reduce the rate of tax visitors pay on their rooms to make New York more competitive as a destination.
We cannot return to normal unless we take the recovery of our tourism and hospitality industry seriously. It’s time for relief.
Glenn Every and Patrick Condren are President and Vice President/Secretary, respectively, of BUS4NYC – a New York-based advocacy group made up of private bus company owners and related businesses and associations, promoting the industry as a viable transportation solution and local economic driver. Every and Condren have been in the coach travel and transportation industry forever with family business origins in the 1950s.