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Destination DC visitation numbers down by 50 percent in 2020

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Destination DC (DDC), the official destination marketing organization for Washington, DC, announced that pre-COVID-19, the US capital welcomed 24.6 million total visitors, with 22.8 million domestic visitors (up 4.1 percent), and 1.8 million overseas visitors (down 7.9 percent). (Sources: MMGY Travel Intelligence, Travel Market Insights, National Travel & Tourism Office, U.S. Department of Commerce). According to 2019 data from IHS Markit, visitation supported 78,266 jobs across all sectors in Washington, DC, up 2.3 percent from 2018. Tourism also generated $8.2 billion in visitor spending and $896 million in local tax revenue to the District.

Elliott L. Ferguson, II, President and CEO of DDC, addressed approximately 1,000 attendees virtually at the organization’s annual Marketing Outlook Meeting. He also shared data from Tourism Economics that projects approximately 11 million domestic visitors, down 53 percent, will travel to the city in 2020. However, if a vaccine is available early next year, and if the recession does not deepen in a significant way, that estimate could rise to 20 million by 2022. By comparison, it took the travel industry 10 years to recover following 9/11.

 “We set the bar high with 10 consecutive years of growth before the pandemic changed things for us, and as we can expect, this year won’t look good,” said Ferguson. “The key for us will be securing funds to market our destination when the time is right, adapting our sales efforts virtually and focusing on the safety measures the city and industry have adopted to keep visitor safety in mind.”

Data from MMGY Global shows that consumers view their personal cars as a safer mode of transportation than travel by air or train. Once advertising resumes, DCC will prioritize the drive market, comprising more than 50 million people within a four-hour radius, through its Discover the Real DC marketing campaign. The Stay Local DC campaign will target locals in the region, a key market in destination recovery. Shifts in messaging prioritize safety, proximity and masks.

Editorial outreach and content are key, especially until advertising is in place, and DDC’s website, washington.org, is undergoing a redesign that will launch at the end of the year.   

COVID-19 has greatly impacted tourism spending. According to Tourism Economics, visitor spending was down 83 percent, or $5.6 billion, for March 8-Aug. 22, 2020 compared to 2019. When it comes to large-scale events and groups booked by DDC, there have been 42 cancellations to date, resulting in a $422 million total loss, not including in-hotel meetings and leisure groups. Thirty-five major events would have taken place in 2020, resulting in a loss of $369 million, and seven events in2021, valued at $53 million.However, during the pandemic,DDC has booked five citywide meetings, including Delta Sigma Theta sorority 57th national convention in 2025 with an estimated economic impact of $14.5 million.  

 In 2019, DC’s top 10 overseas markets, in order of visitation, are China, UK, India, Germany, South Korea, France, Australia, Italy, Brazil and Spain. Though overseas visitors only represent 7 percent of the total number of visitors to DC, international visitors [overseas visitors plus visitors from Canada and Mexico] represented 27 percent of visitor spending for 2019. According to Tourism Economics, overseas visitation is not expected to fully rebound until 2024. During the down period for international travel, the tourism team has launched a virtual travel agent training program that provides education for group operators to sell DC. The program has trained more than 570 people from 40 countries.  

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