COVID-19, two years later: Queens tourism slowly rising as visitors return to the ‘World’s Borough’

Tourism in Queens is on the rise as the city begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. (QNS file photo)

When Queens became the “epicenter of the epicenter” of the global health crisis in March 2020, tourism in the ‘World’s Borough’ came to a halt. Restaurants, transportation, recreation and sporting events were canceled, as COVID-19 shuttered the doors of establishments and devastated the local economy. 

Two years later, as Queens emerges from the pandemic, the Queens Tourism Council in partnership with the Queens Chamber of Commerce is working toward revitalizing the economy and bringing people together again. 

“Tourism has been slowly growing, and we were firing on all cylinders before COVID. Everyone was doing great,” said Rob MacKay, public relations, marketing and tourism, Queens Economic Development Council (QEDC). “We lost a lot of that during COVID, but I feel like we are revving up — we are going to have a good summer. People are starting to go out more, and new restaurants are always opening up, and annual events are returning.” 

The Queens Tourism Council, which was established 10 years ago and is part of QEDC, is helping to promote a multi-disciplinary arts festival, “Queens Rising,” that will take place in June. The monthlong event will highlight the cultural and creative diversity of Queens through unique performances, exhibitions and commissions. 

Spearheaded by a coalition of major arts organizations in the borough, the festival will serve as a beacon of light after the difficult challenges of a health and economic crisis, which prevented the public from experiencing the arts in person, and a period of social struggle for racial equity that has forced a deep reckoning across society, the coalition said on its website

“We want people to know that Queens is back and promote all of the wonderful things going on,” MacKay said. “I also have a feeling that it will be a great summer in the Rockaways, too, with more people at the beach and dining at restaurants.” 

The tourism industry is vital to Queens’ revival, according to MacKay.

“Restaurants, hotels, transportation and the amount of jobs in Queens are dependent on the tourism industry, along with John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport,” MacKay said.

Queens is a host to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which starts on the last Monday of August and continues for two weeks into September. The event attracts more than 700,000 fans and provides a wide variety of dining options, reflecting the vibrancy and culture of New York City. 

The park is also home to Citi Field — the ballpark of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets — and the popular international Queens Night Market. In South Ozone Park, Resorts World Casino New York is another popular attraction for people, according to MacKay.

With the baseball season returning and COVID-19 restrictions easing, the New York Mets should draw big crowds back to Citi Field. (QNS file photo)

The borough’s cultural institutions and museums, such as Flushing Town Hall, the Museum of Moving Image, the New York Hall of Science, Queens Museum and Queens Theatre, also provide a variety of programs for children and their families. 

While the majority of the city’s tourism jobs (57.6%) are located in Manhattan, the second-highest concentration of jobs related to tourism is in Queens, according to a report from the NYS Comptroller’s Office. The Astoria and Long Island City area had the highest share of total employment in tourism-related industries, at 19%, which was driven by employment in scheduled air passenger transportation.

As Queens, and the entire region, looks to recover from the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, tourism will be vital, said Thomas Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. 

“We are fortunate to be home to two airports that serve tens of millions of passengers every year, and the continued investment to transform John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport into world-class aviation infrastructure that will have a transformative impact on Queens, creating jobs and catalyzing economic activity that support local small businesses, especially MWBEs,” Grech said. 

Additionally, Grech says, they want to make sure that people visiting New York know of all the amazing dining, hospitality and cultural amenities that make Queens special. 

The chamber has partnered with QEDC to launch QueensBest.org, to highlight all of the best the borough has to offer, Grech said. 

“Whether you’re visiting from abroad, or a lifelong resident of Queens, the website has something for you. And by dining and shopping locally, you’ll be helping to create jobs locally. It’s a win-win,” Grech said.