Sebastián Salinas poses dancing on the “Joker’s stairs” while his friends portray him with the phone’s camera. A year ago this steep ramp became one of the fashionable tourist attractions in New York due to the delirious dance of Joaquin Phoenix in the movie ‘Joker’ (2019). When the Todd Phillips film was released a year ago this month, hundreds of visitors flocked to the not-so-touristy neighborhood of The Bronx to replicate the scene daily. To the level that people who lived in the buildings around the stairs were having fun throwing bags full of water at people who were queuing to take a selfie.
Today Salinas has the place to himself. This Ecuadorian tourist explains that he bought the plane ticket to the Big Apple almost a year ago when he saw an interesting offer and that he considered canceling the trip when New York was the epicenter of the pandemic, but that when he saw the improvement of the situation in The big city decided not to cancel its vacations and to revisit New York for the fourth time.
“Now it’s much more comfortable because there are fewer people. At MoMA and at the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art) one could freely take photos and enjoy a lot more. Traveling in a pandemic has been good for me, maybe a little irresponsible, but With certain care it is fine, “says the lawyer, who explains that to enter the United States they did not even take his temperature, but that to return to his country of origin he had to do a diagnostic test for COVID-19.
At the top of the Empire State Building, where tourists used to imitate King Kong and the most romantic the protagonists of ‘Love Affair’ (1939) or ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ (1993), you don’t see many tourists either, due to other factors, to the travel restrictions that the United States maintains with China, Iran, Brazil, the United Kingdom and the European countries belonging to Schengen – among which is Spain.
“Before, 64% of our visitors were international, but during the pandemic there are almost no tourists from other countries,” says Jean-Yves Ghazi, president of the iconic building’s observatory, detailing that now people who come to see the Views from the Empire State Building and visiting the museum is from New York or neighboring states like New Jersey or Connecticut. Ghazi notes that since this skyscraper – the world’s first 100+ story building – rose 90 years ago on Fifth Avenue, the doors have never been kept closed for so long, 126 days to be exact.
“We believe that we are gradually going to recover our business. This October we were at 6% compared to 2019 and we project that we will be at 60% by the end of 2021”, highlights the businessman, who believes that this 102-story building will not reach 100 % of the traffic you received last year until the last quarter of 2022.
Despite the fact that its doors were closed for several months, the building, which used to receive 4 million annual visitors, continued to communicate with the city and the world through the lights of its tower, which at the end of March and during the month April and May were transformed into an ambulance, in honor of medical services. In June they were turned off in memory of the African American George Floyd, who died in a sad episode of police abuse. “We also celebrate the reopening of the city or Independence Day, where we launch fireworks for the first time from the top of the Empire State Building.”
Another movie scene is driving through Central Park in a carriage. The coachman Amet Bilici and his horse Black Star have been key for years in recreating that idyllic scene, but this year they are having a hard time working on it. “We closed in March and we reopened on October 1. At first there was a bit of movement because the weather was good and there were few floats. But now it has gone down again, more horse carts have come and there are no tourists. The city is empty, there is no one, “Bilici laments. Before the pandemic, on a sunny weekday fall day he would have made three or four trips, but now in the almost five hours he has been parked in the New York lung he has not had a single customer.
This coachman, who has been practicing this profession in Central Park for two decades, says that during the half year it was closed, he received an unemployment benefit – at the end of October, more than 1.3 million residents had received this type of help – and sent his two horses to a farm. Bilici was hopeful that the business would pick up this Christmas, a time when New York is usually filled with tourists, but he sees that the date is approaching and that hundreds of shops, hotels, bars and restaurants are closing due to lack of traffic.
“New York works with tourists. If tourists come here, everyone makes money,” he adds. Before the city closed in March, the hotel industry created up to 400,000 jobs and attracted some $ 46 billion. “This kills us. I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent for the stable, I don’t know how I’m going to pay for my house or the health insurance for the horse or its horseshoes … everything costs money,” says Bilici from the top of his decorated carriage with flowers.
The 66.6 million visitors the Big Apple received in 2019 was a record for New York. The first months of movement of 2020 indicated that this year there could have been even more tourists, according to the city’s tourism promotion agency, NYC & Company, but, after the ravages of the pandemic, it is likely that by the end of the year the city reached only a third of last year’s total.
“London was even worse, there was no one in the center, that was a city that does not have tourism, at least in New York there are Americans from other parts who come to visit, the British do not go to London,” he laughs. Suzie Stadnyk from the Brooklyn Bridge, a catwalk where you can now walk more comfortably, something impossible months ago.
This tourist explains that being Canadian has been able to travel without problem throughout Europe and North America during the pandemic. “I was in Italy, Greece and the UK for four months during the pandemic and now I am here for a couple of weeks, so I have seen all the empty cities, without tourists. I like them for me, but we need tourism to move the economy”, says Stadnyk, who says that throughout this itinerary he has not been able to fear being infected with coronavirus.