Visitors are returning to the District as tourism bounces back from the pandemic, but reports say that it could be years before the industry is back to pre-pandemic levels.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday that she looks forward to seeing tourists back in the nation's capital and hopes that major league sports and outdoor concerts will attract even more.
"There's reason for optimism. And the reason is, D.C. is open, and I want everybody to spread that word," she said.
Tourism is the second biggest industry in D.C. after the federal government, currently supporting nearly 60,000 jobs. Before the pandemic, that number was closer to 80,000 jobs.
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Elliot Ferguson with Destination D.C. said that the return of tourism could boost job availability. Hospitality job listings show thousands of openings right now.
"Man am I happy to be here this year with some good news," he said. "Visitors spent about $5.4 billion and we had about 58,000 jobs tied to [the tourism] industry."
In 2019, D.C. had about 25 million visitors. That number plummeted to just over 13 million in 2020 during the pandemic but bounced back to almost 19 million last year.
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This year's cherry blossoms saw an increase in visitors, and industry leaders say that hotel reservations and airline bookings indicate a busy tourist season.
While the District is seeing an increase in domestic tourists, international and business travelers are slower to return, which could be an issue as they tend to be bigger spenders than their domestic counterparts. But, Bowser said hosting large events in D.C., like Pharrell's upcoming Something in the Water festival on Juneteenth, are all a part of the strategy to bring visitors back.