Tourists weigh in on Hurricane Sandy
For tourists who had come to the Big Apple, Sandy was the only show in town.
Scratched were the much-anticipated Broadway shows, museum exhibits, Circle Line tours and nightlife outings, as almost all of Manhattan battened its hatches. Installed on the tourist itinerary were strolls to gawk at the damaged crane dangling far above West 57th Street and lessons on dealing with cancelled flights and unforeseen circumstances in an unfamiliar location.
"The children were excited, but also scared," when even the emergency lights and the water went out at the Roger Williams Hotel on Madison Ave., where Emmanuel Cazals, of Paris, was staying with his daughter, Diane, 10, and son, Ayneric, 8.
Cazals was hoping that their flights home Thursday would be delayed, so that he his kids could at least get a peek at Central Park and the Bronx Zoo.
Cazals was impressed by the efficiency of first responders, but hesitantly suggested that "perhaps they shut down all the things [such as the MTA] too soon," early Sunday night in preparation for the storm, adding to the inconvenience and anxieties of all.
Glaswegian photographer David Elder, in town to celebrate his 50th birthday, quipped: “Other than the damage caused by the flooding, this is just another autumn day in Scotland.”
Elder blamed the U.S. media for overreacting, and showing the most dramatic images of storm damage, leaving his friends abroad to believe that Gotham had become Atlantis.
"The news really hyped this thing. To me, it creates fear," he said.
Elder was thrilled to score tickets to “The Late Show with David Letterman” Monday night, but was told when he arrived the show would be filming sans audience.
"We saw people walking out with buckets. I think it was a health and safety issue," he said. The show promised a rain check, he added.
Yuvanart Virchanang, 30, a flight attendant for Royal Jordanian airlines based in Bangkok who was grounded in midtown, was one of many globally-minded visitors expressing hope that Sandy would prove a lesson to all nations on the importance of curbing global warming.
Tourists on holiday were itching to shop. The few stores and restaurants that managed to open on Tuesday morning were rewarded with lines of shoppers eager to spend money in them. Virchanang was searching for an open drug store to pick up some vitamins as "things like Omega 3s and COQ-10 are very expensive in Thailand."
Hotels also provided temporary homes to New Yorkers in flood prone areas. Juan and Mariana Mier had just received word Tuesday that they could return home to their apartment in Battery Park and were checking out of the midtown Sheraton with more luggage in tow than many international travelers. "It was like a two-day vacation!" said Mariana, 26. "No cooking. No housework," said Juan, 31.
Midtown hotel lobbies were jammed with both tourists and displaced New Yorkers from downtown in search of wifi connections, and outlets to recharge their cell phones, iPads and electronic devices.
Hotels appeared to be swollen with guests, but the long term effect was not likely to be good, said Bjorn Hanson, dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports. "Although stranded travelers stay over, and some residents evacuate to hotels or stay in hotels if homes or apartments are damaged, those effects are not as significant as the cancellations by business, leisure, group [and] convention," and non-commercial travelers, said Hanson.
Initial data from STR, a firm that tracks the hotel industry, showed that occupancy was normal during the height of the storm. With 95 of the usual 175 hotels reporting occupancy data for Monday night, the occupancy was "just above 80%," with an average daily rate of $290, Jan Freitag, senior vice-president, said in a statement.
“So far our data is showing no impact positively or negatively from the storm," said Freitag, adding that a better sense of the storm's impact would be had "when we release the full data set next Wednesday morning.”
Sandy certainly deprived stores of tourists’ business, though. Clifton Dillon, 44, a music producer from Miami thwarted from recording his artist, Omi, had been itching to buy new clothes.
"I'm a shopaholic," said Dillon, a fashionable man wearing glasses from Milan who spent the storm holed up in the Marriott Marquis. "I go crazy when I go in the stores. So Sandy probably saved me a lot of money," he said.