The past year in New York City has been absolutely brutal for so many of us. The loss of life and mental anguish have been devastating, and the accompanying financial impact has taken a heavy toll – particularly for those industries directly impacted by the nosedive in tourism and corporate “work-from-home” orders. The next few months will be monumental as the venues and corporations that transportation companies rely on for business begin to reopen.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in late-April that NYC stores, businesses, offices and theaters will reopen at “full strength” July 1, which is both encouraging and a little scary. There is a lot at stake, and quite a few things that could hamper de Blasio’s efforts – but Covid numbers have fortunately been trending in the right direction, so I think it’s reasonable to be cautiously optimistic.
In early April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the greenlight to small- and medium-sized performing arts and entertainment venues in the state to open, subject to a 33% capacity limit. Those numbers increase for businesses that require proof of a recent negative Covid-19 diagnostic test or complete immunization, like the state’s Excelsior Pass System, which displays a scannable QR code for verification. The system, which was quickly picked up by concert and entertainment venues like Madison Square Garden, is also meant to encourage employers to reopen offices. At the start of March, only about 10% of Manhattan’s office space was being occupied.
In late-April Gov. Cuomo announced that New Yorkers could resume sitting at bars on May 3, and the midnight food and beverage service curfew for outdoor dining was scheduled to end May 17. The midnight curfew for indoor dining is now set to end May 31, although restaurants will still need to ensure six-foot distancing between parties, Cuomo noted.
By late March, experts were gaining confidence the city could achieve so-called “herd immunity” – which occurs when protection from a virus is achieved by the majority of the population being vaccinated. By April 23, about 40% of all New York City residents had gotten at least one vaccine dose, and about 26% had been fully vaccinated. Although certain segments of the population are continuing to refuse the vaccine, the city is on track to achieve the 65% to 80% vaccination rate needed for herd immunity before the end of this year… if not earlier, experts say.
Meanwhile, Google searches for resorts and hotels recently reached their highest numbers in nearly a decade. U.S. hotel per-room profits (excluding operating expenses), in February, hit their highest level since the outbreak began, according to hotel market research firm STR – particularly at five-star hotels and resorts. The trend aligns with a spike in the purchase of airline tickets. American Airlines recently said its bookings have reached 90% of pre-pandemic averages.
In early April, the CDC announced that fully-vaccinated people could travel, but recommended they continue wearing masks. It’s a small price to pay for the freedom to travel, or even to simply get out of house as Spring is in full bloom and Summer is right around the corner.
To help jump-start tourism, NYC is launching a $30 million tourism marketing blitz in June – the city’s largest-ever campaign of its kind. Called NYC Reawakens, the campaign seeks to attract both domestic and international visitors to the city. The funds, from federal stimulus programs, will pay for TV ads and social media campaigns, including a Wish You Were Here at NYC campaign, which asks New Yorkers to invite friends to visit the city. The city is forecasting 36.4 million visitors in 2021, more than half of the record 66.6 million visitors that came to NYC in 2019.
The city is planning to reopen Broadway, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other venues in September – but in the meantime, the ferry from Lower Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island has seen a spike in numbers and other attractions are reporting similar increases as capacity limits for museums, zoos and movie theaters have been raised.
According to Crain’s New York Business, business in the outer boroughs is picking up steam as well. Out-of-towners from New Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester County are booking “self-care” appointments like hair, makeup and nails in rapidly climbing numbers. Tourists are also heading to beaches, bars, restaurants and beauty salons in Bed-Stuy, the Rockaways, the West Village and other neighborhoods.
All of this is happening as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new guidance in late April relaxing outdoor mask-wearing guidelines for vaccinated Americans. The CDC is recommending that vaccinated NYC residents continue wearing masks in some instances, but the new guidelines stipulate that fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a mask when walking or running outdoors. The same applies for small outdoor gatherings and outdoor dining.
Assuming that vaccination numbers continue to bring the city closer to herd immunity, it’s reasonable to expect demand for transportation to increase dramatically in the weeks and months ahead, hopefully bringing For-Hire Vehicle drivers and Taxi medallion owners back to work.
In the past year, many of the city’s TLC-regulated drivers weighed the risk of catching Covid against their earning potential and decided it wasn’t worth it. Hopefully, that will change very soon, and our industry can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy. In the meantime, I urge everyone to get their vaccine, continue to wear a mask during your shift, and take the necessary steps to prepare for what we all hope will be a giant step forward on the road to recovery from this devastating pandemic.