Out of all the industries affected by the COVD-19 pandemic, tourism has been one of the hardest hit. In New York City, many people working in the hospitality, transportation, restaurant and entertainment sectors are using one word: “devastated.”

It’s hard not to agree with them. New York is one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the world. Tourism is a major contributor to the city and state economies and employs more than 400,000 people within the five boroughs. With the onset of the pandemic, tourism in the city came to an almost complete halt, and the familiar shenanigans ― the crowds, the long lines at museums, the restaurants where it’s impossible to get a table ― disappeared with it.

Since the reopening, New York has been slowly coming back to life, as have some elements of the tourism industry. Double-decker buses reappeared on their sightseeing routes. Galleries and museums started opening their doors with new safety protocols and limited capacity. Outdoor dining has proven a big hit for New Yorkers and visitors alike. But most people in the hospitality and tourism industries agree on one thing: It will not be the same until international travel is back and Broadway is open.

A somewhat unexpected remedy came from New Yorkers themselves. Tired of sitting in their apartments, New Yorkers came out to explore their own city in a way they ordinarily never get to experience it ― free of tourists.

A double-decker tour bus belonging to the Big Bus tour company prepares to depart on a downtown route. The route got cut down and now only makes five stops; it would make more than 20 on a pre-pandemic tour.
A double-decker tour bus belonging to the Big Bus tour company prepares to depart on a downtown route. The route got cut down and now only makes five stops; it would make more than 20 on a pre-pandemic tour.

NYC & Company, a public-private organization that helps link businesses and the city and serves as a marketing agency for NYC, had to restructure its operation entirely, trying to combine safety and marketing to both New Yorkers and people coming from nearby areas. Its budget has been cut from $40 million to $27 million, and 42% of the staff has been laid off. The main focus of its marketing has been to convince New Yorkers to explore their own city and even stay in its many now empty hotels. Those hotels, meanwhile, have had to get creative, going beyond simple hospitality to find new ways to attract guests. The William Vale hotel in Williamsburg, for example, has opened a rooftop skating rink, allowing about 20 people per hour to use it.

“We want New Yorkers to not only participate financially in the recovery but also rebuild New York City’s vibrancy by experiencing and exploring the city,” Christopher Heywood, the executive vice president of global communications for NYC & Company, said.

The photos below show what the city’s tourism looks like now, as it tries to get back to some sense of normalcy.

Swirlsss, an artist from Kissimmee, Florida, paid a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. “In Florida there is no centralized regulations, and I feel more at risk there," she said. "You go to a bar and no one is wearing a mask.” She visited New York to see her friends and enjoy the city and its high energy even at this time.
Swirlsss, an artist from Kissimmee, Florida, paid a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. “In Florida there is no centralized regulations, and I feel more at risk there," she said. "You go to a bar and no one is wearing a mask.” She visited New York to see her friends and enjoy the city and its high energy even at this time.

Temperature screening at the entrance to the Museum of Modern Art.;
Visitors at the Museum of Modern Art look at displays.

Arsen Batyuchok is an IT specialist from Lviv, Ukraine. He decided to come to New York for a few reasons. The round-trip ticket was only about $500, and the U.S. was one of the countries with flexible arrival policies and open borders for Ukrainians. He also wanted to visit his friend with whom he’s staying. “People here are much more strict about rules and safety precautions," he said, "so I feel very safe.”
Arsen Batyuchok is an IT specialist from Lviv, Ukraine. He decided to come to New York for a few reasons. The round-trip ticket was only about $500, and the U.S. was one of the countries with flexible arrival policies and open borders for Ukrainians. He also wanted to visit his friend with whom he’s staying. “People here are much more strict about rules and safety precautions," he said, "so I feel very safe.”
A closed-down visitor center on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.
A closed-down visitor center on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.
Jose Escalona-Martinez, also known as the Times Square Batman, says there are "no tourists to take photos with." Most of his tips came from visitors from Europe, he says. With international travel cut off, he is scrambling to support his family in Argentina.
Jose Escalona-Martinez, also known as the Times Square Batman, says there are "no tourists to take photos with." Most of his tips came from visitors from Europe, he says. With international travel cut off, he is scrambling to support his family in Argentina.

Inside a souvenir store on Broadway in downtown Manhattan.;
A hat cart on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in New York on Nov. 27.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in New York on Nov. 27.

The Egyptian Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Danny Rossi is a disabled Vietnam veteran who has been running a hot dog cart in front of the Met for 13 years with his daughter Elizabeth. During some nights of lockdown, he slept in the van next to his cart, fearing someone would try to take over his prized spot. “We would sell 400 hot dogs a day. Now, maybe a tenth of that. But we keep working and waiting.”
Danny Rossi is a disabled Vietnam veteran who has been running a hot dog cart in front of the Met for 13 years with his daughter Elizabeth. During some nights of lockdown, he slept in the van next to his cart, fearing someone would try to take over his prized spot. “We would sell 400 hot dogs a day. Now, maybe a tenth of that. But we keep working and waiting.”
People walking through the Vessel structure at the Hudson Yards in Manhattan.
People walking through the Vessel structure at the Hudson Yards in Manhattan.
Alexander Gorchakov came to the U.S. from Moscow to visit his girlfriend. “First of all, I was surprised to find out that U.S. allows travelers from Russia without any restrictions, and it was even more confusing to realize that there are different states' restrictions.” New York has a 14-day quarantine requirement, but not for people who are passing through, so Alexander and his girlfriend went to California for a few days and returned to New York a day before his flight back to Moscow. He was able to explore New York a little bit, mostly on foot, and enjoyed the absence of crowds. “I don’t like to [be] surrounded by people, so this is perfect for me. And it’s interesting to see New York like that but still maintaining its spirit.”
Alexander Gorchakov came to the U.S. from Moscow to visit his girlfriend. “First of all, I was surprised to find out that U.S. allows travelers from Russia without any restrictions, and it was even more confusing to realize that there are different states' restrictions.” New York has a 14-day quarantine requirement, but not for people who are passing through, so Alexander and his girlfriend went to California for a few days and returned to New York a day before his flight back to Moscow. He was able to explore New York a little bit, mostly on foot, and enjoyed the absence of crowds. “I don’t like to [be] surrounded by people, so this is perfect for me. And it’s interesting to see New York like that but still maintaining its spirit.”

People take photos in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood.;
Two people have lunch on a bench in Brooklyn Bridge Park in Dumbo.

The skating rink on the roof of The William Vale hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The skating rink on the roof of The William Vale hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Tony Bridges, a native of Florida who attends Cornell University, was visiting his girlfriend Lotoya Francic, who lives in Brooklyn. “In New York, constant reminders of mask wearing and safety -- it's actually something I appreciate, and overall here I feel safer seeing most people wear masks and respecting social distancing rules. And I try to do my part by wearing a mask.”
Tony Bridges, a native of Florida who attends Cornell University, was visiting his girlfriend Lotoya Francic, who lives in Brooklyn. “In New York, constant reminders of mask wearing and safety -- it's actually something I appreciate, and overall here I feel safer seeing most people wear masks and respecting social distancing rules. And I try to do my part by wearing a mask.”

Tourists on the Liberty Cruise tour boat, which departs from Pier 36 and makes a circle around the Statue of Liberty.

A man posing in front of the "I Heart NY" sign at the observation deck at the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan.
A man posing in front of the "I Heart NY" sign at the observation deck at the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan.
A man takes a photo of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan.
A man takes a photo of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan.
A couple takes a selfie with the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. 
A couple takes a selfie with the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. 
Daisy Martinez and Cindy Herrera are seen here on their first night in New York, shortly after arriving and checking into their hotel on Times Square. They decided to travel at this time to take advantage of empty streets. “We are afraid of coronavirus, but we’re taking maximum precautions with masks, sanitizing, washing hands, and that’s about all we can do.”
Daisy Martinez and Cindy Herrera are seen here on their first night in New York, shortly after arriving and checking into their hotel on Times Square. They decided to travel at this time to take advantage of empty streets. “We are afraid of coronavirus, but we’re taking maximum precautions with masks, sanitizing, washing hands, and that’s about all we can do.”
Times Square on the evening of Dec. 7.
Times Square on the evening of Dec. 7.

Exposure is HuffPost’s photo blog showcasing extraordinary photo stories from photographers around the world, edited by Christy Havranek, Chris McGonigal and Damon Scheleur.