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The District of Columbia, Destination DC and Tourism Partners Discuss Importance of Tourism and Recovery Plans Once Travel is Safe

Efforts to rebound follow a record 22.8 million domestic visitors to DC in 2019 pre-COVID-19

Destination DC (DDC), the official destination marketing organization for Washington, DC, and partners today announced the current impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry and steps toward recovery once travel is safe.

Muriel E. Bowser, mayor of the District of Columbia, joined DDC President and CEO Elliott L. Ferguson, II today for the update.  

“When the time comes and we are able to safely reopen our city, I know our community will be eager to support the businesses, sites and restaurants that have made DC one of the top destinations in the world,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser. “The reopening of our city won’t all happen at once, but by thinking ahead and coordinating our recovery efforts, we can protect the health and well-being of our residents and visitors while getting Washingtonians back to work.”

In late April, Mayor Bowser announced the leadership of the ReOpen DC Advisory Group, which will develop recommendations on reopening the District safely and sustainably through a plan based in science and tailored to the needs of the community. Ferguson is serving on the ReOpen DC Faith, Arts, Culture, Hotels, Entertainment and Sports Committee and encourages DC travel and tourism industry representatives and stakeholders to participate in the ReOpen DC survey and sign up to receive updates.  

New data about tourism to Washington, DC pre-pandemic gives context for the city’s momentum. According to MMGY Travel Intelligence, in 2019, DC welcomed 22.8 million domestic visitors, up 4.1 percent, resulting in $8.2 billion in visitor spending in 2019, up 4.1 percent. Visitor spending supported 78,266 jobs across all sectors in 2019, up 2.3 percent.

“The results from 2019 show that Washington, DC has made strides with 10 years of tourism growth, but nothing makes up for what we’re currently experiencing, said Ferguson. “So, we’re focusing on the steps we can take now to set DC up for recovery as soon as it’s safe, and that includes securing funding for marketing, highlighting the city’s free things to do as a value destination and planning for more advertising within drive markets as consumer confidence in travel rebuilds.”

Additional 2019 data from IHS Markit shows that visitation created $896 million in local taxes for the District (up 5.4 percent over 2018) and if tourism did not exist in Washington, DC, taxing authorities in the District would need to generate an average of $2,920 in taxes from each of the 307,000 households in the District in order to maintain the current level of tax receipts.

Today’s update served in the place of DDC’s annual Travel Rally and was held during National Travel and Tourism Week, a time for the tourism industry to celebrate its resilience and the value of the industry to the domestic economy.

“Travel and tourism is going to be a crucial vehicle for bringing back jobs and economic activity once we have clear guidance that the health crisis is dissipating,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “For that reason, it’s still the right moment to celebrate the spirit of travel even as the industry is enduring one of its biggest challenges ever. We have to attend to the health and safety of our communities first, but we also need to be prepared to help power an economic recovery when the moment is right."

Robust sales and marketing efforts will position the nation’s capital for recovery. An independent ROI Study conducted by Destination Analysts and developed with DC’s CFO office showed that for every $1 DDC spent on “Discover the Real DC” spring and summer advertising in 2019, $3.03 came back to the city, which is the highest return to date.

“We have to be aggressive and fight to win consumers back, and it starts in our own backyard and region,” said Robin A. McClain, senior vice president, marketing and communications. “From the ROI study, we know our advertising had been resonating, and when we’re able to go back to market, it will target locals, the drive market and a national audience as we compete with other destinations all vying for the same consumers.”

While the goal is to never need to use it, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is prepared to be used as an alternate care facility to support the District’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19). DDC has seen at least 22 cancellations of large-scale events resulting in an economic hit of $163 million. However, DDC’s sales team continues to secure future business, and recently won the bid to host the 2027 Lions Clubs International Convention over July 4th. The first-time group for the city is expected to bring an economic impact of $14.9 million from 25,000 attendees, with 5,000 room nights on peak and nearly 30,000 total room nights.

“Hospitality and tourism has been the backbone of DC’s economy. In our role as the convention and sports authority for the city, Events DC remains dedicated to providing support and aid to our local restaurant, hotel and destination partners in helping our city get back on its feet, when the time is ready,” said Gregory A. O’Dell, president and chief executive officer of Events DC. “The $18 million hospitality and tourism relief package that we announced is one critical example in helping to fuel recovery. Until we can begin recovery, we will continue to stand with our city leaders and partners during this uncharted time to ensure that we come out even stronger as a city. Together, we look forward to once again rebuilding the trust and spirit of travel.”

The domestic market is expected to rebound before international, but from an economic perspective, overseas visitors are an important market because they tend to stay longer and spend more. DDC works with partners and international representation to target potential overseas visitors.

“This week, we honor the spirit of travel, the strength and resilience of the tourism industry, and the millions of Americans whose jobs it is to deliver travel experiences,” said Chris Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA. “As we look toward the future, we know travel will be an integral part of our economic recovery, re-employing millions, and re-engaging with the world. Until then, Brand USA remains focused on supporting our partners as they navigate a new normal and we’re committed to delivering inspirational content about U.S. destinations, like Destination DC, to travel dreamers worldwide.”

DDC continues to provide inspiration to keep the nation’s capital top of mind by highlighting virtual content and creating a sense of community on social media. The #DCtogether hashtag highlights virtual events and ways to support local businesses. Content on includes Things to Do This Weekend: Stay Home Edition, DC Restaurant Delivery and Carry Out Guide and How to Show Your Support for DC and Local Businesses.

About Destination DC: Destination DC, the official destination marketing organization for the nation’s capital, is a private, non-profit membership organization of 1,000 businesses committed to marketing the area as a premier global convention, tourism and special events destination with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historic communities.

May 6, 2020

Media Contacts

Danielle Davis
Director of Communications
Julie Marshall
Domestic Media Relations Manager
Susan O'Keefe
Media Relations Manager, Trade
Nicole Nussbaum
International Media Relations Manager