Tourism to Washington, D.C. declines


The District saw declines in tourism visitation and spending in 2009, though early projections this spring show that the city could be poised for a turnaround this year.

Domestic visitation to D.C. was down 3 percent to 14.8 million individuals throughout last year. Visitor spending fell 7 percent to $5.2 billion, which represented $582 million in tax revenue for the city.

“Though D.C. fared better than other cities, in 2009, we really felt the impact of the economic downturn as well,” said Elliott Ferguson, CEO of Destination D.C., the city’s tourism arm, at a tourism rally at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center Tuesday. “But we are seeing more signs of improvement.”

Ferguson attributed the declines in visitors to fewer conventions held in D.C. and a drop in business travel, though leisure travel was up slightly in D.C.

Hotel occupancy remained relatively flat last year in D.C., at 73 percent, and the average daily rate for the city’s hotels decreased to $199, compared with $208 in 2008.

At the rally, Roger Dow, CEO of the D.C.-based U.S. Travel Association, said that 2009 was one of the toughest years the industry has faced in recent times. The travel industry in 2009 accounted for approximately 66,000 jobs in D.C., according to Dow. The association is projecting that, nationwide, leisure travel will increase this year by about 2 percent, with business travel up 2.5 percent and spending up 5 percent.

So far, that seems to be playing out in the nation’s capital. In April 2010, when the city’s most recent statistics are available, the city saw hotel occupancy rise by 5.6 percent and average daily rate numbers rise by 14.4 percent compared with April 2009.

A study that measures return on investment for Destination D.C.’s $1.2 million summer tourism campaign showed that it brought approximately 92,000 additional visitors to the area who spent $59 million, according to Ferguson. D.C. will spend considerably less this year on summer marketing: approximately $750,000.

This summer, the city will see such conventions as the American Library Association gathering in June and the Microsoft Worldwide Partners conference in July.