It used to be impossible to find a New Yorker who’d visited the Statue of Liberty since grade school.
But thanks to the pandemic, residents from the Empire State and neighboring Garden State now make up the bulk of traffic to the 305-foot green statue famous for having welcomed boats of immigrants to New York Harbor.
“Right now you absolutely notice when someone is speaking another language besides English, whereas before we’d hear every language,” Rafael Abreu, director of sales and marketing for Statue Cruises, which operates the tourist boats, told The Post in an exclusive interview.
New York and New Jersey now account for 55 percent of all visitors to Liberty Island and its neighboring Ellis Island this year — up from 20 percent in years past, Abreu said. International tourists, meanwhile, now account for 4 percent of the traffic, down from 12 percent traditionally.
Floridians and Californians are also coming in greater numbers than in years past. They are now ranked third and fourth, accounting for nine and six percent of domestic visitors. Neighboring Connecticut and Pennsylvania ranked sixth and eighth.
In total, some 2,000 tourists a day are taking the weekend ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, which boasts the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, since the historic sites reopened on July 20, Abreu said. That number dwindles to a more paltry 500 a day during the week.
Abreu estimates that far less than one million visitors will have boarded a boat this year, down from the 4.3 million visitors Statue Cruises ferried to the islands in 2019.
Visitation to the Big Apple overall has plummeted as a result of the pandemic — a trend that’s expected to continue in the new year. The city’s tourism board, NYC & Company, estimates that 23 million visitors will travel to the Big Apple in 2021 compared with 67 million in 2019.
It will take three years for NYC tourism to recover to 2019 levels, the tourism board estimates, pointing out that it took four years for international tourism to rebound after Sept. 11.
And while visitations are now a fraction of what they were, demand to see Lady Liberty has been high enough to keep the ferries running. Statue Cruises is now operating two vessels or half as many as in past years.
“We don’t see our sales getting back to normal until 2024,” Abreau said. But it’s heartening to see “all the families who are coming right now.”