“What will be, will be”: New York City tourists unimpressed with Omicron

Air travelers wearing face masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, walk to JetBlue Terminal 5 at JFK International Airport in New York, United States, November 16, 2021. REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton

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NEW YORK, December 1 (Reuters) – The holiday season promises a peak of joy in traveling to New York, with more visitors on the streets and in shops, but the emergence of the highly mutated variant of the Omicron coronavirus threatens to put the brakes on the recovery of the tourism industry.

“Just when you think you have the answer, it seems like this virus is constantly changing the question,” said Mark Williams, a New Yorker operator of Big Bus Tours, one of the world’s largest open-top sightseeing bus companies. in the world.

Travel website Kayak said searches related to international travel to New York City have increased by 50% since the lifting of COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated international visitors on November 8.

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“There is certainly a lot of pent-up demand for people to come to New York,” said Kayak CEO Steve Hafner.

Hafner admitted the Omicron variant was a wild card, but was confident in New York’s appeal and that travelers were starting to learn to live with COVID-19.

“People are very resilient, and that’s what we’ve seen in the numbers. So as soon as the government lets them do things, they’re going to go out there and do it, and there’s no better place. to do that New York, ”he said.

Big Bus Tour travelers seemed to agree.

“They say it’s not as bad as they thought,” said Kevin Norman, from Britain, referring to Omicron. “What is more worrying is that we have to pass more tests to return to the UK.”

“I’m fully vaccinated. So what will be will be,” said fellow British tourist Ann Heinz.

Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, which works to improve and promote the famous intersection, has seen the number of pedestrians increase dramatically since November 8, to more than 250,000 people per day from 30,000 at the start of the pandemic.

Harris expects a return to pre-pandemic figures of 365,000 people sooner than expected, but denounces any notion of normalcy.

“Normal is boring,” Harris said. “Times Square is anything but boring. We are not going to back down. We are going to fall forward. We are going to learn from the pandemic and we are going to create a new and exciting Times Square post-pandemic.”

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Reporting by Roselle Chen; Editing by Karishma Singh and Gerry Doyle

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