The nation's capital has officially reopened — it's pushing for domestic visitors from neighboring states for now, and counting on public and private sector initiatives on the road to recovery, until international travel returns.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo unequivocally stated on Wednesday her commitment to the recovery of the U.S. travel and tourism industry, a powerful sign of support from a member of President Biden’s cabinet.
The commerce secretary made her remarks at a rally hosted by Destination DC — the city’s destination marketing organization — to celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week.
“Supporting the travel and tourism industry is one of my top priorities,” Raimondo said in a streamed message, noting that she had witnessed, as former governor of tourism-dependent Rhode Island, how the pandemic had especially hurt workers and businesses in this sector.
“I’m excited to utilize the $750 million that was allocated to the Department of Commerce through the American Rescue Package to kickstart some of that short-term recovery … distributed in a way that reflects the losses in all 50 states, territories and Washington, D.C.”
Washington D.C. officially reopened on May 5, Mayor Muriel Bowser confirmed, with marked optimism following the series of excruciating months for the nation’s capital. Popular attractions and activities are also reopening later this month, including six Smithsonian Museums like the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the National Gallery of Art, the Holocaust Museum, the D.C. United stadium, and Georgetown’s City Cruises.
Mayor Bowser said the city was also launching a “DC shop, eat, play, stay” giveaway, in collaboration with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, to incentivize travel and entertainment spending — 51 winners will receive $25,000 each towards hosting an event in the city, and 46 additional participants will get between $500 and $10,000 to spend at restaurants, entertainment and hotels.
Pre-pandemic, Washington DC welcomed over 25 million domestic visitors, spending over $8 billion and supporting over 80,000 jobs.
By contrast, according to Tourism Economics research data, domestic visitation reached 10 million in 2020, and is forecast to rise to 14-15 million this year.
“DC hotels can expect 5.7 million rooms in demand in 2021 – more than double last year,” said Elliot Ferguson, CEO of Destination DC.
Marketing the city will also get back on track, Ferguson said. Destination DC has contracted locally based agency January Third, owned and operated by a native Washingtonian woman.
“Fifty million people live within four hours of DC — that’s our market,” said Elliott Ferguson, CEO of Destination DC. “We know that market is the best opportunity to come to Washington and enjoy all the things we have with many of them being free.”
Part of the effort to reposition to capital’s unique attributes is by showcasing its diverse neighborhoods, hence a new “The DEI District” page and guide on Destination DC’s website.
Much of the optimism on a restart of tourism and travel in D.C. and in the U.S. was tempered, however, with a domestic tourism first focus. Ferguson said the recovery of international travel was not expected this year, but there were positive signs looking at subsequent years ahead.
Mayor Bowser and Tori Barnes of the U.S. Travel Association reminded viewers of the importance of ongoing vaccinations for a full recovery.
City Cruises deck hand Quinn Feike said it was encouraging to see people back on the water after a whole year.
“We had a great cherry blossom season, we are very excited to continue,” Feike said, noting the busy summer season ahead. “If you do want to join us, take a look at our Old Town Alexandria to Georgetown route. If you want to join us in a different way, we are hiring — come work for us, it’s really cool.”
View full D.C. rally here
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Photo credit: Washington DC's museums, including National Museum of African American History & Culture (pictured) are reopening this month as tourism restarts in the nation's capital. Brook Ward / Flickr Commons