People take a selfie on Tower Bridge in London.
The pandemic has dealt a blow to London’s tourism industry, which employs one in seven of the capital’s workers
The cobblestones are deserted at the Tower of London. A biting wind blows and there is no sign of life.
Even the storied ravens are nowhere to be seen.
England’s top paid attraction, which normally draws more than 3 million visitors a year, has been closed for all but a dozen weeks since the pandemic began and international tourism to London came to an almost-complete standstill.
Plagues, fires, war - London has survived them all. But it has never had a year like this.
The coronavirus has killed more than 15,000 Londoners and shaken the foundations of one of the world’s great cities.
As a fast-moving mass vaccination campaign holds the promise of reopening, The Associated Press looks at the pandemic’s impact on London’s people and institutions and asks what the future might hold.
After three national lockdowns, London’s tourist attractions and other hospitality businesses are making tentative plans to reopen in mid-May -- the earliest the government says international travel can resume.
For London’s tourism industry, which employs one in seven workers in the capital, the pandemic has been a body blow. With hotels, attractions and leisure shopping in a near-total shutdown, the industry’s contribution to London’s economy plunged from 15.7 billion pounds ($21.6 billion) in 2019 to just 3 billion pounds ($4.1 billion) in the past year, according to VisitBritain, the national tourism agency.
Even national treasures like the Tower of London have struggled. Historic Royal Palaces, a charity that runs the Tower and other heritage attractions, has said it expected a 100 million-pound ($137 million) shortfall because of COVID-19.
Heathrow Airport has said it does not expect passenger flows to return to 2019 levels until around 2024.
A key question for the recovery this year is whether cumbersome quarantine rules can be eased and replaced by an efficient system of vaccine certificates for travelers, Yates added.
In the longer term, industry experts are confident that leisure travel will bounce back and tourists will return to London eventually. The big unknown, however, is whether business travel will ever be the same again.
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Some attractions, including the Tower of London, are planning to focus on domestic visitors to recoup some losses. Laura Citron, CEO of London & Partners, which promotes business and investment in the capital, said one strategy is to market this year as the golden opportunity for Britons to enjoy its top attractions without the usual crowds.
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