NYC tour buses chart new course as industry waits for comeback

Today, the city has only three registered operators: TopView, Gray Line and Big Bus Tours.

When pandemic restrictions were lifted, Big Bus dropped its less traveled routes. It currently focuses its resources on the Downtown Loop and a condensed version of the Downtown Route, Conway said. At present, she said, there are no plans to reinstate a more robust schedule anytime soon because the demand is not there.

Prices have remained generally stable over the years. TopView’s brochure advertises adult tickets for $75 for an all-day hop-on hop-off tour, while Big Bus advertises $60 for the same. In 2019, TopView advertised $55 for an all-day pass, and Big Bus was the same price.

As for visitors buying the passes, it may be some time before tourism systematically returns to pre-pandemic levels. NYC & Company, the city’s marketing body, predicts a full rebound in tourism that could take until 2024 or 2025. However, in the last week of June, the Times Square Alliance reported a weekly average of 345,590 visitors per day, down 15.3% from the same period in 2019. But on the weekend of July 16, Times Square averaged 420,000 people per day. That’s 9.8% more than the similar weekend in 2019.

As businesses wait for international tourism to fully resume, Big Bus has started working with Gray Line, transporting Gray Line guests while it remains closed. If a customer buys a Big Bus ticket online, they can now redeem it at any of the Gray Line ticket agents or vice versa.

“Until there was enough gas for more buses, it seemed like a really pragmatic decision,” Conway said. “And it worked well for both of us.”

A Gray Line spokesperson said the company plans to start operating its buses again in the fourth quarter, but the company declined to discuss the industry.

TopView did not respond to a request for comment.

Even with the changing landscape, some industry insiders believe bus tours are key to ensuring travelers enjoy their visit to the city.

“I think [the double-decker buses] are a big part of the tourism industry in New York,” said Ric Stoneback, a former tour guide who has worked in the industry since the early 1990s.

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