New Yorkers rediscover city’s pandemic-deserted tourist spots

Thomas Urbain

NEW YORK (AFP) – New Yorkers are taking advantage of the absence of tourists during the pandemic to visit iconic sites in the Big Apple that they would normally avoid.

At 10am on a recent Friday, barely 10 people were on Liberty Island’s roughly 200-metre promenade, staring up at the Statue of Liberty.

In normal times, even although it is not peak season, hundreds of tourists would be posing for selfies in front of the copper icon of freedom.

Student at the City University of New York Alexander Lumbres has been to the island 20 times before, but never been able to enjoy a crowd-free view of the statue.

“It was really hard for me to take pictures. Usually, we would go around the backside, just to get like a proper picture with the family and everything,” he said.

Roughly 67 million tourists visited New York City in 2019. In 2020, visitor numbers were a third of that, and most came before the pandemic began ravaging the city in the spring.

Today, 90 per cent of visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art come from the local area, according to a spokesperson. Ordinarily, locals make up fewer than half.

NYC & Company, which markets the Big Apple around the world and which cut its workforce by almost a half because of coronavirus, launched the “All in NYC” campaign to encourage New Yorkers to visit their own city.

Getting New York back on its feet is “going to start with New Yorkers” said Executive Vice President Christopher Heywood.

“When you live here, you take it for granted,” said Darlene Vann, who’s in the military and stationed in New York for a year. She was visiting the Statue of Liberty for the first time.

Government agency National Park Service that manages national parks and sites’ Jerry Willis, said “New Yorkers are famous” for not visiting renowned sites on their doorstep.

Darlene’s husband, Jay Vann, prefers outdoor venues over closed spaces because officials are “limiting capacity” at indoor venues, which also come with the threat of some patrons not complying with strict health protocols.

Despite enjoying New York’s new-found quietness, locals are beginning to crave the manic old days.

“It’s about time we get back to the normal hustle and bustle of the city. We enjoyed that when we were living here when we were younger,” said Jay Vann.

With the partial re-opening of cinemas and large arenas such as Madison Square Garden, NYC & Company’s Heywood sees positive moves in the right direction.

“It’s been gradual, but we are starting to make our way toward a recovery,” he said.

But he said the real turning point will be when Broadway re-opens, which may not be until September.

“Broadway will be that catalyst that we need to be able to signal to the world that New York City is absolutely open for business,” he said.