Inaugurations a boon for D.C. hotels

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A record crowd on the National Mall for the inauguration of President Obama in 2009. During that January, the average Washington hotel room rate was $302 a night, up from $144 the year before.
A record crowd on the National Mall for the inauguration of President Obama in 2009. During that January, the average Washington hotel room rate was $302 a night, up from $144 the year before. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

With this week's inauguration of Donald Trump expected to attract protestors and supporters alike to Washington, the mood among visitors to the nation's capital will be decidedly mixed.

The mood among Washington hoteliers, however, will be overwhelmingly positive.

Destination DC, the city's destination marketing organization, said last week that it was not yet ready to make a prediction as to how many people would show up during inauguration weekend, but federal and local officials said they were planning to accommodate one million visitors.

While that's short of the record 1.8 million who attended the 2009 inauguration of president Barack Obama, hundreds of thousands are expected to flock to attend various protests in and around the National Mall.

Overall, visitation to the city this week could triple typical midweek numbers, according to travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance.

Kannan Sankaran, Washington-based managing director of CBRE Hotels Consulting, said, "This inauguration will have more of an influx of folks from out of the District. The number of supporters won't be much different, as there will be more or less the same amount of Trump people as telling us they are on track with the 2013 inauguration, when D.C. hotels were about 67% full," said Vanessa Casas, international media relations manager for Destination DC. "Some hotels are fully booked, but there is still availability left in the city."

Exploding prices might be even more drastic on Airbnb. As of last week, a one-bedroom apartment listing near Capitol Hill that typically charges $190 a night was asking for more than $1,200 for Jan. 19.

Still, the boost in demand will spell good news for lodging operators in a market where, until this year, growth in room revenue had lagged the country's, primarily as a result of government austerity measures.

Following the federal government's so-called "sequestration" in 2013, the city's hotel market saw a drop in RevPAR, after which its RevPAR growth trailed the country's in both 2014 and 2015.

Meanwhile, the city's hotel supply rose to 110,000 rooms as of last November from almost 99,000 at the time of Obama's 2009 inauguration.

In addition to the Watergate and Trump International, notable newer and updated properties included the Marriott Marquis Washington, which opened in 2014, and the Mayflower, which completed a $20 million renovation in 2015.

Those hotels have started to benefit from increasing visitation numbers. The city attracted 21 million visitors in 2015, the most recent year tracked. That was an annual record and marked the sixth consecutive annual increase as more leisure travelers, especially from overseas, complemented the city's traditional government base of visitors.

"The city's doing a good job penetrating the leisure travel market," Sankaran said, adding that the opening of the Marriott Marquis has helped Washington better market itself as a convention-ready city.

As for best facilitating the movement of all the visitors expected around the inauguration, Destination DC recommended that in lieu of driving, people use the Metro or the capital's bikeshare program. The Metro will be operating with extended hours on Inauguration Day, opening at 4 a.m., and running until 9 p.m.

Destination DC also advised visitors who plan to use a ride-sharing app such as Uber or Lyft that there will be what it called a "geofence" around the security perimeter, meaning pickups will not be permitted inside that perimeter. Attendees using those services will have to leave the perimeter to get to their ride.

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