D.C. tourism: Metropolis sees enhance in guests, however full restoration elusive

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D.C. welcomed practically 6 million extra guests final yr than in 2020, an indication that persons are on the transfer and wanting to journey. It’s additionally a stark reminder of the challenges the nation’s capital faces because it seeks to rebuild a tourism economic system reeling from the worldwide pandemic.

Vacation spot DC, the town’s advertising arm, introduced Wednesday that 19.1 million folks visited the District in 2021, up from 13.3 million in 2020, when pandemic-related closures and journey restrictions largely grounded home and worldwide journey. About 18.8 million of those that got here to the nation’s capital final yr had been home vacationers, whereas about 270,000 had been worldwide guests.

Vacationers spent $5.4 billion within the metropolis, based on estimates from Vacation spot DC, which supported practically 58,000 native jobs. As cities throughout the nation compete for a similar tourism {dollars}, native officers stated D.C. should be aggressive about advertising the town whereas incorporating altering journey habits amid the pandemic.

“It’s clear that we’re centered on getting again to regular,” stated Elliott L. Ferguson II, Vacation spot DC’s govt director. “There are numerous indicators that provide you with a way that issues are coming again on-line.”

Vacation spot DC is projecting that tourism will proceed to extend this yr, with customer numbers reaching about 20 million. It credit an increase in conventions, widespread vaccinations and extra curiosity in journey.

Whereas an enchancment, the 2021 numbers illustrate how far D.C. nonetheless has to go. In 2019, earlier than the pandemic, 24.6 million folks visited the town, which generated $8.2 billion and supported 79,675 jobs. The variety of guests final yr is simply greater than three-quarters of 2019 ranges.

Ferguson made the announcement Wednesday throughout an annual Vacation spot DC assembly on the newly re-christened Waldorf Astoria Washington DC, considered one of a number of inns which have opened or been renovated in the course of the pandemic. It was beforehand the Trump Worldwide Lodge; former president Donald Trump earlier this yr offered his authorities lease for the property to CGI Service provider Group for $375 million.

Trump sells D.C. resort lease to Miami funding group

Journey trade officers stated native tourism progress plans contain concentrating on worldwide guests, who are likely to spend extra. Earlier than the pandemic, worldwide guests made up about 7 p.c of vacationers to the nation’s capital however spent 27 p.c of all tourism {dollars} within the metropolis.

The tip of a 33-nation ban in November that barred most non-U.S. residents from visiting the nation has proved to be a boon for the journey trade, as was the Biden administration’s determination to finish a requirement that worldwide vacationers present proof of a damaging coronavirus take a look at earlier than flying. On the identical time, staffing shortages this yr have prompted flight delays and cancellations in the US and Europe, forcing airways to trim their schedules. Different segments of the journey trade, together with inns and eating places, are equally battling discovering sufficient employees.

Geoff Freeman, the incoming president and CEO of the U.S. Journey Affiliation, stated that all through the pandemic, the trade has carried out “an excellent job with a nasty hand.” He estimated that $1 trillion in journey spending has been misplaced nationwide because of dampened enthusiasm because the begin of the pandemic.

Vacationers are starting to return to D.C. However the trade’s staff are nonetheless struggling.

“With a concerted effort to deal with right now’s head winds — together with slow-to-return enterprise journey and government-induced obstacles for worldwide guests — we’re assured that Washington, D.C., and the nation can obtain a full restoration,” he stated.

Regardless of the journey slowdown, native tourism officers say the area has laid the groundwork for a restoration.

Ferguson stated the second section of the Wharf improvement is about to open this fall. Throughout the town, no less than 26 new inns or renovations are within the pipeline, which is able to add about 5,900 new or improved rooms. The latest One thing within the Water competition in downtown Washington over the Juneteenth weekend is one other instance of the town’s efforts to broaden occasion choices, Ferguson stated.

Throughout the Potomac River, officers at Reagan Nationwide Airport final yr opened a brand new 14-gate concourse, changing Gate 35X, an notorious bottleneck that required passengers to journey shuttle buses to board their flights. The brand new concourse permits airways to function bigger plane, probably rising the variety of guests. The undertaking additionally consists of new Transportation Safety Administration checkpoints aimed toward decreasing wait occasions.

So lengthy Gate 35X, lengthy the bane of Reagan Nationwide vacationers

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) stated the town hopes to create extra locations for guests to Washington. She outlined investments the town has made in latest months, together with $2.5 million for the D.C. Household Enjoyable program and $2 million to a program centered on reimagining tourism within the metropolis.

“I’m pleased to have the chance to make sure we’re utilizing our sources to make the investments it’s worthwhile to appeal to folks to Washington, these individuals who stay round right here, these people who find themselves having staycations, worldwide vacationers,” Bowser stated. “They’re coming again, and we’re going to be prepared for them. D.C. is open.”

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