New York City is back on top as the number one traveler's destination this holiday season -- for the first time since the pandemic began.
Over half of Americans (55%) plan to travel this winter, up 50% from those in 2020, according to Tripadvisor's Winter Travel Index. An overwhelming majority of bookings remain domestic, with travelers looking to explore new horizons across the states.
In comparison to last year's figures, American holiday travel is projected to increase just over 40%, based on The Vacationer's Holiday Travel Survey.
U.S. residents will head to the Empire State to shop at the holiday markets and revel under the 79-foot tall, nearly 12-ton Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
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Trailing behind New York City is Orlando, Fla., Las Vegas, Key West, and Miami Beach, Fla. Notably, the country's second most populated city, Los Angeles, trailed in the No. 9 slot.
Stacey Toussaint, a New York City tour company operator, is excited by the influx of tourists. Toussaint is the president of Inside Out Tours, a Black woman-owned business that takes guests off the beaten path to explore the less told history of the city.
She believes tourism can be a tool to support other small businesses in her community.
"If tourism is done correctly, tourism can actually step in the gap and provide revenue to keep institutions open. The churches that we visit we give a portion of our revenue to," Toussaint told NBC New York.
The Winter Travel Index found that Americans are feeling more cheerful this holiday season when compared to their international counterparts. However, recent uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus Omicron variant may create more of a stir.
President Joe Biden on Monday called the new strain a cause of concern but "not a cause for panic," sharing the message that the White House does not foresee another sweeping U.S. lockdown.
The Biden administration is planning on tightening Covid testing requirements for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers.
Proof of a negative Covid test is currently required regardless of vaccination status. Fully vaccinated people must take a sample no less than three days before entering the U.S., while not fully vaccinated travelers must take the test no more than one day before departure from a foreign country.
“CDC is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, on Tuesday.
This change of plan comes less than a month since the U.S. reopened its borders to fully vaccinated international sightseers.
Still despite the pandemic's setbacks, studies project a slow, promising recovery as the Big Apple navigates a post-Covid future in the tourism industry.
Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a $450 million "Bring Back Tourism, Bring Back Jobs" inclusive recovery package that coincided with welcoming back foreign nationals.
The plan consists of a $100 million tourism worker recovery fund and a combined $125 million toward grant programs. While $200 million is set aside to support small businesses that started just prior to or during the pandemic.
Even though New York City saw a dramatic drop in 2020 visitors compared to 2019's record year of over 66 million tourists, the city's tourism agency forecasts a boost in visitors in 2022.
The agency anticipates New York City will hopefully welcome just over 57 million tourists next year, mostly domestic but almost doubling international travelers in just one year.
The pace of recovery depends upon a strong travel leisure response after a year of lockdown.
Toussaint believes there is a great future for the tourism industry in the Big Apple, a city she says "paused but never stopped" rebounding.