D.C. officials: City tourism seeing healthy recovery

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WASHINGTON -- The convention center here has only been open for a little more than two years, but it is already having a major positive impact on the capital citys tourism industry, tourism officials here said.

The Washington Convention & Tourism Corp. said the convention center has helped boost hotel occupancy and contributed to tourism recovery that brought 18.75 million visitors to Washington in 2004, as business and leisure travel grew by 6.3% and 9.8%, respectively.

Thats still below the 19.2 million mark achieved in 1998, but officials are bullish, particularly about the robust hotel market, which reported a 76% occupancy rate in the first six months of 2005, beating the national average.

William Hanbury, the corporations president and CEO, said Washington is ahead of several major cities in terms of occupancy and average daily rate.

In fact, according to Smith Travel Research data, Washingtons occupancy average outpaced several major cities, including Philadelphia (70%), Chicago (61%) and Boston (61.7%). However, New Yorks occupancy average of 84.1% edged out Washingtons.

At the same time, Washingtons average daily rate for the past six months was $183.94, beating the national average of $90.45 and topping every major city except New York, which had an average rate of $191.42.

Hanbury said a key factor in the rise in both occupancy and rates is Washingtons growing business and convention market.

Of the 5.8 million business visitors we hosted in 2004, 2.2 million cited either a convention or a seminar as the reason for traveling to Washington, D.C., he said.

That is in comparison to 1.9 million in 2003 when the new, 2.3 million-square foot convention center opened and replaced the old 800,000-square foot facility.

By the end of the year, meetings and conventions will generate over 1 million hotel room nights, Hanbury said, and $705 million in direct spending from attendees. The convention center investment has paid off and brought tremendous value to the community.

The Washington Convention Center Authoritys board of directors has approved a plan to expand the facilitys meetings and ballroom capacity by another 75,000 square feet.

Washington also saw an uptick in the number of international visitors.

The U.S. Commerce Departments Tourism Industries, International Trade Administration reports the number of international travelers visiting Washington rose 22% in 2004 to just over 1 million.

The international travel market, which reached a high of 1.4 million visitors in 2000, had fallen off after 9/11.

We still have work to do there, Hanbury said. We were in a very, very deep trough, but we have steadily climbed our way out of it, but we are still not all the way back.

Hanbury suggested that it might be some time before the international market significantly returns.

Some of that relates to [U.S.] visa policies and our welcoming initiatives at our borders [that have] not been too spectacular, he said. That has caused damage to the national travel economy from an international perspective.

The travel statistics, which were partly compiled by the Travel Industry Association, show at least 25% of Washingtons visitors hailed from New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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