NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — After almost two years of being kept out, foreign travelers are now allowed back in the U.S., and here in New York they’re being welcomed with open arms.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Times Square was a constant reminder of the pain being felt all throughout the city. There was no energy and it was often empty. But as we continue our recovery, there is life again at the Crossroads of the World, CBS2’s Kevin Rincon reported Monday.

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The lights on Broadway are shining again. The crowds are flocking to landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and even new places like Little Island.

All of that spells opportunity.

“I want to make New York fun again. I want people to feel that vitality, that energy, that all of us knew before the pandemic, that we just embraced as part of our DNA,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

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To help, the governor on Monday announced a $450 million investment in tourism.

A majority of that money will be used to give some 36,000 tourism workers a one-time payment of $2,750.

There’s $100 million that will be set aside to encourage tourism businesses to rehire those workers.

“We know you can put them to use, and I know, financially, it doesn’t make sense. That’s why we’re going to help you out. Bring them back now,” Hochul said.

For every worker brought back and kept on the job for six months, the employer will get $5,000.

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“Ultimately, the goal is to put everyone back to work,” said Richard Maroko, president of the Hotels Trades Council.

Maroko represents hotel workers who have anxiously been waiting to go back.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so it’ll be a little bit of time until we’re back to pre-pandemic levels, but we’re heading in the right direction,” Maroko said.

He said the return of foreign travelers is a big step. Not only are they arriving at our airports, they have been driving down from Canada.

And once they’re here, they visit cultural sites like museums, which have had to make drastic reductions. The grant money being offered is designed to help.

“We’re looking forward to bringing our workers back,” said Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History, adding when asked if they’re going to be there? “We hope so, and we think so.”

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Vaughn Buntain lives in Germany, but believes people like him can help the city recover.

“Europeans love coming here and I have a son who lives here and I haven’t been able to visit in two years,” Buntain told CBS2’s Cory James.

As tourists come back, businesses that rely heavily on them will start bringing in more money, and the hope is they’ll then use that cash to bring back workers who were let go, which, in turn, will help the city inch that much closer to normal.

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CBS2’s Kevin Rincon contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team