What it’s like to visit the US as a tourist now the travel ban’s been lifted – The Independent

December 20, 2021
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New York, along with the rest of the States, is welcoming back British visitors with open arms, finds Mark Jones
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Don’t look down…
“I haven’t heard that word in so long!” says the front of house guy at the Conrad New York hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
That word was the simple expression “cheers”. I’d said it without thinking, as the average British person might do several times a day. But he looked quite emotional to hear it again. His hotel, just south of Central Park and up from Times Square, has been pretty much a cheers-free zone for 604 days.
I am sitting on the 51st floor of that hotel, looking out as glorious sunshine washes over the vivid russets and fading greens of the park and twinkles on the Hudson River beyond. It’s unfeasibly warm – no coats (the British version) were required for last night’s jamboree at the Empire State Building, only coats (jackets, the American version).
And you could say that New Yorkers’ welcome has been unfeasibly warm too.
A suite at the Conrad hotel
I’d always thought that this is a city that takes its 66 million annual visitors in its stride, if not quite for granted. Yesterday’s events showed that, as a woman who used to ply her trade in Greenwich Village’s folk clubs once sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.
Joni Mitchell’s words could be the new slogan of NY&Co, the not-for-profit business behind yesterday’s high-octane “welcome back” events. It was a heaven-sent (or Joe Biden-inspired) chance to send a message to the international tourism industry. But this week’s parties and speeches are also a chance to show national politicians and local leaders (including New York’s mayor elect Eric Adams) how important the sector is.
A year ago, ahead of the presidential election, I wrote about my genuine reluctance to revisit an America with Donald Trump at its helm. Hotelier though he is, Mr Trump’s Brand America was behind a wall of his and his supporters’ making. Mr Biden’s “America is back” slogan has had the perhaps intended consequence of making the US itself seem more welcoming to foreigners.
This number one hub of global mingling has sure missed its arrivals
New York City, as we hardly need to restate, is not America. And this No 1 hub of global mingling has sure missed its arrivals. The most oft-quoted figure we’ve heard in the past two days is that foreign visitors account for 20 per cent of the city’s tourists, yet 50 per cent of tourist revenues.
Britons vie with Canadians for the top spot: 1.27 million of us came in the last pre-pandemic year. They are hoping for just north of 750,000 in 2022.
There will be lots to catch up on. Last night, we visited the Empire State Building’s new observation deck and visitor experience. It was a happy 90th birthday gift to what is still New York’s most celebrated skyscraper. It’s seen a few buildings overtake it for height, if not for glamour and prestige. The latest is down in revived Lower Manhattan: The Edge, a toe-tingling observation deck 1,100 feet up on the 100th floor of 30 Hudson Yards. And New York has finally joined the trend for tethering yourself to very high buildings: the just-opened City Climb at 30 Hudson Yards claims to be the highest such experience in the world.
Dinner at Quality Bistro
Talking of shockingly high, that’s what New York prices are once again. Forget pandemic bargains in this pre-festive period – traditionally high season for British visitors. Dining with a friend, I shared six oysters, two negronis, two steaks and two glasses of red wine at the Quality Bistro. The bill just about touched $250 (£185).
At least the food was good (albeit three times what you’d pay for a similar meal in Paris). And it was a chance to experience what will be another novelty for returning British visitors: the rows of temporary outdoor, roadside booths that have popped up outside restaurants. These temporary structures have just been given a reprieve until September 2022.
Cheers to that, and to New York. You’ve still got it, despite everything.
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Don’t look down…
Adam Gray/SWNS
A suite at the Conrad hotel
Mark Jones
Dinner at Quality Bistro
Mark Jones
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