Bedecked in purple Santa hats as they trekked through the neon glow of Times Square, Lorraine Hall and her family decided they weren’t going to let a transit strike stop them.
Hall, visiting from Lancaster, S.C., traveled to the city this week to mark her 65th birthday. But when the subways and buses shut down Tuesday, she found herself among thousands of people trying to navigate a bitterly cold city with a paralyzed mass transit system.
“I didn’t come up here to sit in a hotel room, and as long as my two feet are letting me push it, I’m going to push it,” said Hall, who was traveling with her husband and sister.
For days, officials have been warning about the economic impact of a strike on the city’s tourism industry, which generates about $24 billion a year in business activity. In 2004, the city drew about 40 million visitors for the entire year.
Cristyne Nicholas, president and CEO of NYC & Company, the city’s tourism marketing group, said her office has been advising visitors how to get around using PATH trains or double-decker sightseeing buses. It also was encouraging them to view the strike as a chance to see New Yorkers deal with something out of the ordinary.
“The visitors are getting a little bit of a kick out of it,” Nicholas said.
Officials have also been concerned that transportation hassles will keep people away who would ordinarily come in for a day of shopping or sightseeing, Nicholas said. Those day-trippers are a significant part of the tourism trade at this time of year.
The strike could mean an uptick in business for one part of the tourism industry: hotels. With commuters concerned about getting to work, some are choosing to stay in the city. At least one hotel, The Westin New York, was offering a reduced rate for commuters.
Some would-be visitors have canceled their trips, said Blake Fleetwood, who owns five travel agencies in the area. He’s gotten at least 20 cancellations over the past few days.
“I’m trying to encourage people to come,” he said. “I figure they can walk around.”
That was the plan for Mike Hannon, a Philadelphia police officer who drove in Tuesday morning with his wife and two children. While checking out the ice skaters and Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, he noted one way the strike had made his visit easier.
“We came through the Lincoln Tunnel, we only had like 10 minutes wait,” he said, “and then it was free going from there.”
The strike made getting out of the city difficult for tourists Bernadette and Kevin Calhoun, who had been visiting their three children since last week.
“We had to plan around it,” Bernadette Calhoun said as the Sonoma, Calif., family waited outside a hotel for a ride to the train station. “We couldn’t count on public transit to get where we needed so we ended up booking a private car, which cost us more money.”