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Tourism Leaders Look to Post-COVID-19 D.C.

The District’s tourism industry has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic but the Bowser administration and travel industry leaders have plans to revive the sector once the economic fallout from disease is under control.

Elliot L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination DC, the city government’s travel marketing organization, announced May 6 that the city had a little over 22 million visitors in 2019 that spent $8.2 billion and generated $896 million in taxes. He also pointed out that in 2019 the District’s tourism industry employed 78,000 people that earned $3.6 billion in wages.

However, with the presence of COVID-19 in the District, Ferguson had a bit of advice for people who want to visit the nation’s capital in the near future.

“This is not a safe time to travel, so people need to stay at home,” he said of the stay-at-home order Mayor Muriel Bowser instituted in March amid the growing pandemic. “We are planning for the future and look forward to people coming back to Washington, D.C., and looking at all we have to offer.”

Ferguson said he didn’t have the complete figures for 2020 but guessed that they will be down substantially from 2019 because of the lack of economic activity due to the presence of COVID-19. Roger Dow, president of U.S. Travel Association, says the travel industry generated $2.6 trillion nationally and “COVID-19 has taken a terrible toll on it.”

“This year we could lose $500 billion as a result of the virus,” Dow said. “Travel employs about 800,000 people and powers both urban and rural communities. It will take time for this industry to recover from the effects of this virus.”

Gregory A. O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC, which manages the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and other venues, said because of the coronavirus there have been 22 cancellations of large-scale conventions and events in the District this year that could have generated $165 million for the city.

O’Dell said getting large gatherings to come to the District “isn’t easy” and takes time to set up.

“It generally takes 5-10 years to book a convention,” he said.

However, Bowser announced on May 6 that Lions Club International will meet in the District in July 2027.

“This is the first time they will meet in Washington, D.C., and in the U.S.,” she said, adding that the event will generate an estimated $14.9 million with 25,000 attendees expected to converge on the city.

This year, O’Dell said that major events in the District that usually occur in the fall, such as the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference and Howard University’s homecoming events, are still scheduled to take place.

“If there are any changes to those events, we will let you know,” he said.

Ferguson said despite the pandemic, he will work to aggressively promote D.C. as “a destination for national and international travelers.”

“Seventy-one percent of people say that they are ready to travel in a recent survey,” he said. “In Washington, we have such popular landmarks such as the Smithsonian Museums, the Holocaust Museum and the National Zoo and in the fall, the Eisenhower Memorial will open up and that will bring tourists. After this pandemic subsides, we are ready for people to come back to the District.”

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