DC Tourism: City sees surge in visitors, but full recovery elusive


DC welcomed nearly 6 million more visitors last year than in 2020, a sign that people are on the move and eager to travel. It’s also a stark reminder of the challenges the nation’s capital faces as it seeks to rebuild a tourism economy reeling from the shock of the global pandemic.

Destination DC, the city’s marketing arm, reported Wednesday that 19.1 million people visited the district in 2021, up from 13.3 million in 2020, when pandemic-related closures and travel restrictions largely entrenched national and international travel. About 18.8 million of those who came to the nation’s capital last year were domestic travelers, while about 270,000 were international visitors.

Travelers spent $5.4 billion in the city, according to estimates from Destination DC, which supported nearly 58,000 local jobs. As cities across the country compete for the same tourist dollars, local officials said DC needs to be aggressive in marketing the city while incorporating changing travel habits amid the pandemic.

“Clearly our focus is on getting back to normal,” said Elliott L. Ferguson II, executive director of Destination DC. “There are a lot of indicators that give you the impression that things are coming back in line.”

Destination DC expects tourism to continue to grow this year, with visitor numbers reaching around 20 million. He attributes an increase in conventions, widespread vaccinations and an increased interest in travel.

While this is an improvement, the 2021 numbers illustrate how far DC still has to go. In 2019, before the pandemic, 24.6 million people visited the city, which generated $8.2 billion and supported 79,675 jobs. Visitor numbers last year are just over three-quarters of 2019 levels.

Ferguson made the announcement Wednesday during an annual Destination DC meeting at the newly renamed Waldorf Astoria Washington DC, one of several hotels that have opened or been renovated during the pandemic. It was previously the Trump International Hotel; Former President Donald Trump earlier this year sold his government lease for the property to CGI Merchant Group for $375 million.

Trump sells DC hotel lease to Miami investment group

Travel industry officials said local tourism growth plans include targeting international visitors, who tend to spend more. Before the pandemic, international visitors made up about 7% of travelers to the nation’s capital, but spent 27% of all tourism dollars in the city.

The end of a 33-country ban in November that barred most non-US citizens from visiting the country has proven to be a boon for the travel industry, as has the Biden administration’s decision to end the obligation for international travelers to present negative proof. coronavirus test before flying. At the same time, staff shortages this year have led to flight delays and cancellations in the United States and Europe, forcing airlines to cut schedules. Other segments of the travel industry, including hotels and restaurants, are also struggling to find enough workers.

Geoff Freeman, the new president and CEO of the US Travel Association, said that throughout the pandemic the industry has done “a good job with a bad hand”. He estimated that $1 trillion in travel spending has been lost nationwide due to cooled enthusiasm since the start of the pandemic.

Tourists are starting to return to DC But industry workers are still struggling.

“With a concerted effort to weather today’s headwinds – including slow-to-return business travel and government-induced impediments to international visitors – we are confident that Washington, D.C., and the nation can achieve a full recovery,” he said.

Despite the slowdown in travel, local tourism officials say the region has laid the groundwork for a recovery.

Ferguson said the second phase of Wharf’s development is expected to open this fall. Across the city, at least 26 new hotels or renovations are underway, which will add approximately 5,900 new or upgraded rooms. The recent Something in the Water festival in downtown Washington over the June 16 weekend is another example of the city’s efforts to expand event offerings, Ferguson said.

Across the Potomac River, officials at Reagan National Airport opened a new 14-gate concourse last year, replacing Gate 35X, an infamous bottleneck that forced passengers to take shuttles to board their flights. The new concourse allows airlines to operate larger aircraft, potentially increasing visitor numbers. The project also includes new Transportation Security Administration checkpoints aimed at reducing wait times.

So long Gate 35X, long the bane of Reagan domestic travelers

DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the city hopes to create more destinations for visitors to Washington. She described the investments the city has made in recent months, including $2.5 million for the DC Family Fun program and $2 million for a program focused on reinventing tourism in the city.

“I’m happy to have the opportunity to make sure that we use our resources to make the investments that you need to attract people to Washington, people who live here, people who stay, international travelers “Bowser said. “They’re coming back, and we’re going to be ready for them. DC is open.

About Jonathan J. Kramer

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