The Week NYC Tourism Died

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, usually the biggest day of the year for New York City bars. This blog post documents how much devastation the New York City tourism industry has endured in just the last 17 days. Most of us are independent professionals. This is our only line of work. We are mostly not employees but contractors. Tourist guides depend on our customers’ air travel and on tourist venues, all of which are drying up. This comes at the end of our traditional off season of winter, when we make virtually no money at all but prepare for groups coming in for the season. The season should start on the first of April.

Today is March 17, St Patrick’s Day. As of March 16, every bar in New York City is closed. Here’s how it all came down:

March 1

Tour guides spoke of their gig work scheduled for this year:

“Solid so far.”

“I’m heavily booked.”

“Never stops, but sometimes slows at [a boat ride company].”

“A lot better than the disaster that was Winter.”

“My bookings seem to be coming with less notice.
I recall January being the booking month.”

“We’ve got hundreds of student tours booked and no cancellations so far but we are bracing for the worst scenario.”

“I just hope the coronavirus would be contained.”

March 2

GANYC, the Guides Association of New York City, holds its annual celebration of New York and New Yorkers, The Apple Awards.

A cruise company going up and down the northern Pacific coast is looking for tour guides.

A double decker bus parked in its Brooklyn lot caught fire.

BuzzFeed posts this photo essay on worldwide tourism losses over the past week due to COVID

Skift posts article saying that 90% of American travelers have not postponed trips so far.

March 3

First COVID patient in New York State is in New Rochelle, just northeast of the city. Governor Cuomo instituted a partial quarantine.

March 4

An independent guide said that she had $3,500 worth of touring cancelled over the past two days. Another guide replied that she also had just had a cancellation worth $3,000.

March 5

European Federation of Tourist Guide Associations statement on worldwide tourism losses from COVID so far:

11 COVID cases in New York state.

March 6

The Gap closes New York City office after one worker tests positive. (What if they’d closed a week earlier?)

The Guides Association of New York City, GANYC, creates a Google doc for the entire New York City tourism industry. Companies and independent professionals can log their monetary losses, dates and numbers of cancellations, and number of potential customer totals lost. (Addendum: this would later run to over 15 million Dollars.)

US Travel Association video urges Americans to keep traveling and to keep safe and healthy.

March 7

33 cases of COVID in New York State.

March 8

NYC & Co creates a survey for tourism, hospitality and travel companies to detail losses so far.

New York University switches to remote classes.

Columbia University closed next Monday and Tuesday.

March 9

Port Authority top executive and husband of Elizabeth Smith (see below) Rick Cotton tests positive.

Elizabeth Smith, head of the Central Park Conservancy, tests positive.

Governor Andrew Cuomo press conference announces New York State hand sanitizer, made right here in NYS.

March 10

Most Broadway shows will offer tickets for $50.

The United Nations closes to the public.

New York City Half Marathon, another source of tourism income, is canceled.

Hilton Midtown now has rooms for $82 per night. (Addendum: it closed in October 2020.)

New York City tourguides lament and share photos of empty Liberty Island, empty boat cruises, empty Metropolitan Museum, etc. published its soon-to-be-a-classic ‘flattening the curve’ graph.

March 11

Cable TV station NY1 report details hits to the tourism industry so far

The new Hudson Yards observation deck Edge debuts, opening at 8 am. A staffer at 1 p.m. says they are sold out.

World Health Organization announces COVID a pandemic.

National Basketball Association suspends the season.

Broadway League curtails the practice of granting stage door and backstage passes.

Governor Cuomo announces 212 COVID cases in NYS, up from a single one just eight days earlier. Charges that the federal government should “at least get out of the way. The horse is out of the barn.”

Cuomo and Ancient Order of Hibernians officials announce that the NYC Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which has marched every year since the 1750s, is postponed.

President Trump bans air travel from most European countries. The UK and Ireland are exempted.

March 12

Mayor de Blasio declares a state of emergency in New York City.

Chelsea Piers, a sports complex, closes.

Broadway theaters close. This means around 40,000 fewer potential clients daily.

Fred Dixon of NYC & Company posts a COVID resource page, with links to business groups, business travel groups, convention groups, and events groups. This list is updated daily. Good work!

TV talk shows made in New York City will not have studio audiences for the time being.

The Metropolitan Museum closes all three branches: Fifth Avenue, The Cloisters and The Breuer.

The Metropolitan Opera cancels everything until March 31.

Carnegie Hall suspends visits and concerts.

New York City Small Business Services releases a form for small businesses to detail how they have been affected by COVID.

March 13

Edge, at Hudson yards, closes.

Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn closes to living people, until April 15th, tax day.

Mayor de Blasio says schools will remain open, despite calls from all sides to close them now.

March Madness basketball tournament is postponed. 

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group closes all 19 restaurants. 

March 14

Statue Cruises is to go on a 4-boat schedule.

A major double-decker tourist bus company in New York lays off most guides.

Mayor de Blasio on radio reiterates schools will remain open.

Trump extends travel ban to UK and Ireland, as well as most of Europe.

One World Observatory closes.

March 15

City Council speaker Corey Johnson demands that schools, restaurants, bars and all non-essential businesses close now.

The other large double decker bus company laid off most of its guides.

NYC schools, bars and restaurants will close.

Central Park Zoo has closed.


March 16


Circle Line and Water Taxi cruises are closed.

High Line Park has closed.

Big Bus and Gray Line have stopped all tour buses.

We guides renew our licenses with the Department of Consumer Affairs, which is closed. Online only, but their system sucks.

A Wall Street journal article about the Fed response to these and other losses quotes guide and GANYC officer Michael Morgenthal:

The Met Gala has been postponed.

Centers for Disease Control recommends no groups of 50 or larger. That means no more 50 to 55 passenger coaches.

March 17

A subdued, ‘guerilla’ parade of Ancient Order of Hibernians members marched, staying apart from one another, quietly in the rain this morning at 6 a.m. on 5th Avenue. This keeps the parade tradition unbroken after all.

All the bars are closed on what would have been the busiest day of the year. But happy Saint Patrick’s Day, anyway, to you and yours.

When it becomes safe to travel again, PLEASE HIRE ME! I’m an 18-year member of GANYC and a graduate of its certification program. or

Some New Yorkers ignore the COVID-19 pandemic

I often have to go to Midtown Manhattan to see doctors. My home is in far northern Manhattan, so I usually take the train to the doctor’s offices. But now we’re in the beginnings of a vast coronavirus outbreak, so I have to protect myself, given my lowered immunity status. I donned purple nitrile gloves and an N95 breathing mask. I filled a little spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol, and got started.

The MTA promised 2 weeks ago that they would have all train and bus surfaces cleaned every 72 hours. In the past 14 days they have lowered that time frame to 24 hours. Personally I don’t think the trains are safe from contagions yet, and may not become safe at all. I don’t plan to ride them unless I must. So I drove my car down to Murray Hill, with a plan to walk to the doctor on 56th Street, (where it would have been very expensive to park the car). I found a free spot on East 32nd and started walking North. It isn’t unusual for me to walk this far, given that I conduct walking tours! It’s only a mile or so.

March 13th was 10 days since the first known case of COVID-19 in New York State: a man from nearby New Rochelle who worked in the city. On the 5th we learned we had 11 cases. On the 6th, 33 cases. It has been rising steadily. Today the count is over 700 cases in New York State, a true exponential increase. I had predicted a thousand by April 1st. Looks like I was wrong.

Today there are CNN reports that indicate that people get COVID and are able to spread it to others after only two and a half days. They themselves come down with symptoms after 5 days. COVID can remain alive on surfaces for at least nine days. So it’s under the radar, going undetected by people who simply trust others who look healthy. They simply trust others.

This is akin to how STIs and AIDS spread: people without symptoms hook up with other people without symptoms and trust them.

Here’s what I saw on my way up and down through Midtown Manhattan:

A young man walk down the street wearing the surgical mask. I thought, great! Then he pulled it aside to spit on the sidewalk!

No children wore masks or gloves.

No teenagers. One 20-something, the guy who removed his mask to spit the virus right onto the sidewalk, for others to step on and walk into their homes. Stop spitting, New York.

Office workers in their 20s, 30s and 40s casually sneezing or coughing into the air around them as others walk by. Nobody ducked or changed course.

The only age group of which significant numbers wore masks and or gloves was people roughly my age, in their 50s or higher. We know better. We are the ones most likely to be hit and killed by the virus. We are protecting ourselves, and, if we have the virus, we are protecting you.

I feel that there was less car traffic and that it was moving faster than normal, but I’m not sure. If true, it indicates that there are fewer cars in Midtown. (An Uber driver came down with symptoms this week.) Roughly the same numbers of cyclists as usual, though none except professional food deliverers wore gloves. No one on Citi Bikes wore gloves. It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 60s.

My route was up Park Avenue, through Grand Central, the Pan Am/ MetLife building and the Helmsley building pedestrian corridor, and then up Park Avenue again. Grand Central definitely had fewer people than there should be at that time of day. I stopped to ask a professional photographer who he was photographing for. I saw he was a pro because he was wearing the NYC press badge. He said that he was photographing for the New Yorker. The subject: how people are preparing – or not – for the virus. So Grand Central was a perfect location. I let him take my photo, which I hope will be in the next issue: the guy wearing khakis, plaid shirt, gloves, a mask and sunglasses.

At the doctor’s, no one at the front desk wearing gloves, and in a lobby around 100 feet by 30, no one sanitizing chair arms or table tops. Or the coffee machine. At a medical office, two of the four nurses I saw wore gloves and masks. The only doctor I saw didn’t have anything protective on.

Have you been to the dentist recently? Full gowns, blue gloves, clear plastic face masks. They are ready for anything. Protocols like theirs should be in every doctor’s office now.

Walking down Park Avenue afterward I ran into two women doing what I called the ‘tourist phone circle.’ That’s when they hold their phone horizontally, bend over it and slowly circle to determine which way they’re facing. These friends had come down from Toronto and were taking in the sights. I asked if I could help them with directions, and they asked where Grand Central was. I took them down through it and told them a lot of stuff along the way, since I’m a tour guide with nothing to do for the next several months. I left them in the terminal and exited via the Jackie Kennedy corridor to 42nd.

Saw a fellow tour guide along the way, giving a tour to a couple. She was quiet, so they walked close to her.

By chance I met Fred, a tour guide and longtime friend, standing on the corner. We chatted for a while. It was good to see him. We parted and I walked East on 42nd until I got to the arch. I glanced over at the line of cabs in passing.

Then I noticed: It was rush hour, and no one was waiting for a taxi in the taxi line. The line of cabs went from Vanderbilt, all the way East on 42nd Street, to the Grand Hyatt. I have never, never seen that during rush hour before. Does this indicate that people don’t want to take taxis? Our taxi drivers are at their wit’s end trying to make ends meet as it is. If so, this is a very bad sign for them! I photographed the scene for posterity.

Mayor de Blasio said recently that New Yorkers should prepare for staying in their apartments for two weeks. On my way back downtown I shopped at the supermarket at Lexington and 40th. All the toilet paper except the cheap brands was gone. People had taken all the good toilet paper but left the low-quality stuff. This means they had a choice. They chose to oversupply themselves, without a thought of leaving any but the worst for all their neighbors. Not desperation shopping, but calculating.

Cashiers wore purple gloves. No masks. I asked if there was a one toilet paper or one hand sanitizer per shopper rule in place…yet. Nope!

But at the pharmacy a few blocks away, several signs taped over the empty toilet paper section: “STORE #14318 ONE PAPER PRODUCT PER CUSTOMER, PAPER TOWEL AND TOILET TISSUE PLEASE SO EVERYONE IN THE COMMUNITY CAN ALSO SHOP FOR THESE ITEMS.” Excellent!

Returning home, my wife pointed out several ways in which I possibly spread contagion around the apartment before I got rid of all my cleanliness supplies. For instance I had touched elevator buttons with my sleeved wrists or elbows. But I was still wearing my shirt. I had touched a few things, like the microwave oven buttons and door, after entering the apartment. And I had sat in the doctor’s office. So I turned away from her and she sprayed the seat of my pants. She loves me.

One more note: NEW YORKERS! the people who deliver your packages and food make less than $20,000 a year. They need your help. A man came to deliver dinner. He gave me several bags. Then I asked if he would like a pair of nitrile gloves. He accepted them and thanked me profusely. He was very, very grateful.

Maybe he can’t afford to get his own pair or maybe he works so many hours that he can’t get to a store. And the stores may now be out of purple gloves. If you have a pair to spare, that your delivery people need, give it to them. They will be grateful. And you have started on the path to protecting others.

And when this crisis is over, please start taking walking tours. Learn about New York City. Your tour guide will be very, very grateful.

New York City cannot be stopped.

Isle Of New York tours, LLC