Washington ready for tourism rebound

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WASHINGTON -- The number of travelers visiting the nation's Capitol dropped 3% last year to 17.6 million, according to the city's tourism officials, who predicted a rebound in visitor tallies could occur this summer.

"The past few months have been challenging -- both for the U.S. travel industry and for Washington, D.C.," said William Hanbury, president and CEO of the Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corporation during a press conference here where the tourism figures were released.

Indeed, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks of 2001, Washington has been rocked by, among other things, an anthrax scared and an incident last fall when a sniper claimed several lives and terrorized the city for weeks. Two men have since been arrested and charged with the attacks.

Consequently, many tourists -- particularly day-trippers, families and student travelers -- were scared away.

Tourism figures show that in 2002 there were 1.4 million less day-trippers than the previous year. At the same time, inbound travel to Washington also was down.

"We are estimating that the Washington, D.C. area hosted 1 million international visitors in 2002, marking a two year decline of 19% and 14%, respectively," Hanbury said. "Political and economic global events are the most notable reasons for this dramatic decline."

In the end, a total of 17.6 million people visited Washington last year, about the same as in 2000.

But despite the overall decline in the number of visitors to Washington, the tourism figures did point to several positive trends. For instance:
• The average length of stay for all visitors was 2.8 nights in 2002, up from 2.4 nights the previous year.
• Travelers also spent more per trip with an average of $480 in 2002 verses $467 in 2001.
• Business travel in Washington increased 3% compared to a 5.5% decline across the U.S.
• Visitors to Washington (36%) were more likely to visit a historical place or museum than visitors to other U.S. destinations (14%).
• The top five feeder markets for Washington were New York; Philadelphia; Norfolk, Va.; Baltimore; and Boston (in that order).

In addition, Washington's tourism officials, citing a recent travel survey conducted by the Travel Industry Association, predicted tourism to the city should improve this year.

According to the TIA survey, leisure travel during the summer months should be up 2.5% over last summer, with travelers taking an estimated 275.4 million trips of 50 miles or more from home.

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