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Destination DC Announces Record 22.8 Million Visitors to the Nation’s Capital in 2017 and Previews New Advertising Campaign

Potential visitors encouraged to ‘Discover the Real DC’

Destination DC (DDC) today announced a record 22.8 million total visitors to the nation’s capital in 2017, up 3.6% over 2016. Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of Destination DC, confirmed the banner year for DC’s tourism industry at the organization’s annual Marketing Outlook Meeting held at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium with city leaders, stakeholders and local tourism and hospitality businesses.

“Washington, DC welcomed 20.8 million domestic visitors last year, up 4.2%, and 2 million overseas visitors, up 2.5%,” said Ferguson. “We’ve seen eight years of consecutive growth. At the end of the day, what we do to attract visitors is economic development, resulting in $7.5 billion spent by travelers.”

In 2017, tourism directly supported 75,048 DC jobs, up 0.5% over 2016 and exceeding 75,000 for the first time since 2013. According to IHS Markit, domestic and international spending was up 3.1% and surpassed $7 billion for the third time. Business travel accounted for 41% of visitation and 60% of spending. Leisure spending increased by 5.9% and business spending was up 1.3%.

“Growing tourism is good for local business and good for Washingtonians,” said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser. “When visitors choose DC – when they dine out in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and visit our local neighborhoods – we’re able to spread prosperity and build more pathways to the middle class for residents across all eight wards.”

DDC also announced plans to sustain the momentum of an uptick in visitation by previewing a new advertising campaign called “Discover the Real DC” (view campaign video) under its five-year-old “DC Cool” brand. To inform the campaign, DDC worked with Destination Analysts on custom research in its target domestic markets along the East Coast corridor as well as Chicago and Los Angeles. Eight personas of the visitors likely to visit DC emerged from live interviews and surveys of thousands of consumers.

The personas include: the Eclectic Cultural Traveler, specifically interested in the arts; Family Travelers looking for family education and fun; the Cool Crowd, prioritizing trendy destinations with social media buzz; African-American History Buffs, attracted to destinations with a strong African-American historical significance; LGBTQ, travelers identifying as LGBTQ and for whom a LGBTQ-friendly urban destination is key; Foodies, who seek a notable restaurant scene and celebrity chefs; Political Junkies, attracted to destinations with political significance and want to experience where history is made; and Sports Fanatics, intrigued by world-class sports when identifying potential destinations. 

“The research allows us to be more nimble with our marketing and speak directly to the interests of consumers,” said Robin A. McClain, senior vice president, marketing and communications, DDC. “Washington, DC has the experiences visitors are looking for, whether it’s history, a diverse and welcoming atmosphere or a buzzy Michelin-rated dining scene.”

Looking at overseas visitation, China continues to be DC’s top market with 324,000 visitors, up 6.6% over 2016. In FY2019, DDC will continue to grow its presence on WeChat and its City Experience Mini Program, as well as its Welcome China member certification program.  

The top 10 overseas markets for Washington, DC in 2017 are, in order of visitation: China, United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, France, Australia, India, Japan, Spain and Italy. Though overseas visitors represent 9% of the total number of visitors to DC, international visitors [overseas visitors plus visitors from Canada and Mexico] represent 27% of the visitor spending.

“While we were thrilled to see growth in overseas visitation, we are faced with certain realities about the political climate and how the U.S. is perceived from a global perspective,” said Ferguson. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to welcome the global community and increase our representation internationally in established and emerging markets.”  

In 2019, DC will welcome 21 citywide conventions and special events (2,500 room nights on peak and above), generating 359,557 total room nights and an estimated economic impact of $341 million. Major events include the American Academy of Dermatology (March 1-5), NAFSA: Association of International Educators (May 28-31), American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics (Oct. 21-25) and American Society of Nephrology (Nov. 8-11).

Washington, DC welcomes new flights and hotel inventory to encourage visitation in the year ahead. New nonstop air service into Dulles International Airport launches from London Stansted (Aug. 22) and Brussels (June 2, 2019) on Primera Air, Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (Sept. 15) and Tel Aviv on United (May 22, 2019). There are 21 hotels in the pipeline adding 4,764 rooms to the city, including Eaton Workshop and the Moxy Washington, DC Downtown, both anticipated to open this summer.  

New attractions, renovations and exhibits are a draw. The National Law Enforcement Museum opens Oct. 13. In 2019, citywide programming will surround the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The International Spy Museum moves to L’Enfant Plaza and reopens next spring. The Washington Monument reopens next spring and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s “Fossil Hall” reopens in June. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ expansion (The REACH) opens Sept. 7, 2019.

For more development highlights, visit

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.

Danielle Davis, Director of Communications
202-789-7046; [email protected]

Kate Gibbs, Senior Media Relations Manager
202-789-7072; [email protected]

Vanessa Casas, International Media Relations Manager
202-789-7053; [email protected]

Rebecca Doser, Media Relations Manager, Trade
202-789-7079; [email protected]

Denise Osei, Communications Specialist
202-789-7097; [email protected]

August 28, 2018

Media Contacts

Danielle Davis
Vice President of Communications
Susan O'Keefe
Senior Marketing & Communications Manager, Trade
Nicole Nussbaum
Global Media Manager
Goldy Fogel
Global Media Manager
Kyle Deckelbaum
Domestic Media Relations Manager
Claire Deegan
Communications Coordinator
(202) 789-7059