NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Big Apple has tourism trouble.
A stunning new report shows it could take up to five years before the usual large number of visitors returns to New York City, CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported Tuesday.
The city that never sleeps is taking a nap.
"It was very, very crowded when I was here in February. Now, it's like there's no one here," said Savoya Henderson, a tourist from Georgia.
"It's not the same and I don't think it ever will be the same," added Chivalry Romain of Canarsie, Brooklyn.
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Initially, 2020 was on pace to be the 11th straight year of record growth for New York City tourism. But March came in with the coronavirus.
"It was absolutely immediate. I mean, once the pandemic hit it was like the lights got turned off," said Chris Heywood, the executive vice president of NYC & Company, the destination marketing organization for the five boroughs.
In 2019, the city's travel and tourism industry reached a record 66 million visitors, generating $70 billion in revenue and supporting some 400,000 jobs.
The year-end forecast for 2020 is just 22.9 million visitors, a 66% drop.
Store manager Awad Moses said he feels the loss at Val Cafe in Times Square.
"Usually, I have people inside, sitting outside, inside, sometimes lines, and we have three people working at a time. But now it's nothing there," Moses said, adding when asked if he think the business will survive, "We're trying."
"Not everybody is here to tour around, so the economy is really going down," added Wilson Goopio of Newark.
"We think the vaccine's availability next spring, early summer, will be the inflection point. The ship will then turn and then we'll start to see the recovery take shape," Heywood surmised.
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Considering potential health breakthroughs, lifted COVID-19 restrictions and increased consumer confidence in travel, Heywood estimates pre-pandemic tourism rates may return in three years.
However, he said the number of international tourists, who stay longer and spend more than domestic tourists, is not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2025.
To speed up the timeline, NYC & Company is promoting special events like holiday programming, staycations and supporting local businesses.
"We hoping ... and God, too ... things gonna get better, hopefully, you know? We've been through a lot of stuff and we're almost there," Moses said.
NYC & Company has been encouraging people to take advantage of the less-crowded city. Hotel occupancy has seen an increase on the weekends and that is certainly promising news.
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