Feb 25, 2022 - News

D.C. tourism returns

Illustration of the Lincoln Memorial wearing pink sunglasses and a lei made of cherry blossom flowers.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

As the cherry blossoms return this spring, tourists are expected to come with them, marking the local tourism industry’s steady revival. 

Why it matters: Tourism is one of the most important industries for the District’s economy, and spring is among its more profitable seasons. Plus, other industries, including restaurants and hotels, rely heavily on business from tourists.

  • “We’re going into this season with a lot of optimism,” says Destination DC president and CEO Elliott Ferguson. “We are also seeing an increase in the amount of inquiries about travel to Washington, D.C.”

By the numbers: Destination DC data shows that each pandemic year has been slightly better than the last in terms of tourism’s return, and 2022 is expected to continue the trend.

  • D.C. was on a ten-year streak for record visitation that ended in 2019. Tourism generated almost $900 million in tax revenue for the District that year, according to Destination DC data.
  • In 2020, the number of visitors, amount of visitor spending, and related jobs all decreased by about half.
  • The 2021 data isn’t official yet, but it’s expected that the District had 16 million domestic visitors.
  • 2022 is projected to see 20 million domestic visitors, which is about 87% of pre-pandemic levels.

Yes, but: International tourism is still a challenge. Tourists visiting from abroad tend to stay the longest and spend the most, Ferguson says. D.C.’s top market for international travel is China. 

  • COVID restrictions, specifically related to quarantines,  are keeping that segment of the industry from recovering as quickly. 
  • In 2019 overseas tourists made up 7% of visitors, but accounted for 27% of tourist spending, according to Destination DC data.

Driving the news: The lifted vaccine mandate and soon-to-be lifted mask mandate were met with mixed reactions but “the business community and the meetings community are looking at it favorably and I think that’s going to work to our advantage,” Ferguson adds.

Zoom out: The pandemic is heavily impacting the tourism industry, but it’s not the only hurdle. Gas prices, international elections, and global conflicts all impact how people travel. “Those things are things in which we had to focus on well before the pandemic,” Ferguson says.

The bottom line: Groups of eighth-graders in matching t-shirts and lost tourists on the Metro could all be back in a couple of months, which is welcome news for the local economy.


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