Coronavirus update: DC tourism revenue nose-dives amid pandemic

A man crosses a quiet street in Washington, Monday, April 13, 2020. D.C. is under a stay-home order for all residents in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Tourism revenue and visitor spending in the District has nose-dived since the coronavirus crisis started, D.C. officials said at a news conference Wednesday.

“To date, we’ve lost over $1.7 billion in travel spending because of this crisis, which is a 71% decline from where we should be. $78 million in taxes that normally would be generated have been lost because of this,” said Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination DC.

In 2019, before the pandemic, more than 22.8 million domestic visitors came to Washington. Those visitors generated $8.2 billion in spending and $896 million in taxes were generated. The travel industry also supported 78,000 jobs.

Ferguson said the District is planning for the future, when the city can fully reopen to tourism.

“We believe, from our perspective, and the mayor asks us all the time, what’s next? It’s all tied to what we’re going to be able to focus on in terms of promoting D.C. as a global and domestic destination,” Ferguson said.

“Recovery is tied to consumer confidence. And as the medical community has said, they’re focusing on ways to manage this pandemic and its aftermath,” he said.

“71% of American travelers surveyed said they’re ready to get out there again, they miss traveling, they’re tired of being at home, and they can’t wait to get on the road.”

Ferguson acknowledged that Americans’ budgets have also been hit hard by the pandemic.

“With budgets taking a hit during this pandemic we consider what we do in terms of marketing D.C. will be extremely important, as we’re going to be focusing on what visitors can afford, and quite frankly, that’s where D.C. really shines as a destination,” he said.

“We consider ourselves a great value simply because of the 100 free things that we have to offer to visitors coming to Washington as a destination. The 16 free Smithsonians, including the zoo, the National Holocaust Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and of course, all the monuments, memorials and museums that we have in our destination.”

Officials field questions during virtual town hall

At Wednesday night’s weekly virtual town hall, where city leaders field questions form the public, a resident from Ward 1 asked a question about schools reopening in the fall. She wanted to know that if schools reopen, will online learning still be offered for parents who are afraid to send their kids back.

Deputy Mayor for Instruction Paul Kihn said that is being looked at, along with how many kids can the city put in each school to ensure there is space for social distancing.

“It’s likely that this will mean for some school or many schools, that all the students can’t fit,” Kihn said.

Another question focused on large venues, such as hotels, and whether workers at those venues would have to get tested for coronavirus before coming back to work.

Director of the D.C. health department La Quandra Nesbitt responded, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently is not recommending that kind of testing, but she said there me be things, such as temperature checks and other measures.

Nesbitt said the problem with requiring someone present with a negative coronavirus test before going back to work is “a negative test does not ensure that the individual is absent from virus on an ongoing basis.”

Another resident asked about whether D.C. schools will start three weeks earlier next fall than usual, but no final decision has been made on that.

‘I am going to do what’s best for our jurisdiction’

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reminded people of her stay-at-home order in the District and warned of increasing infection rates once local and national economies start to open up after being asked about Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s suggestion that his state could enter Phase One of their reopening plan by May 15.

“D.C. residents and D.C. government employees are under a stay-at-home order. And they should only be going out for essential work, exercise, food, medicine and supplies. That stay-at-home order has not changed,” Bowser said.

“What we know is that when the economies — whether they’re around us, around the nation — start opening up that, more people will get infected.”

“D.C. residents who are participating in nonessential activities, no matter the jurisdiction, put D.C., their households, their neighbors, people they’re on public transportation with, at risk,” Bowser said. “And that’s why we continue to be in the stay-at-home posture. And that’s why we continue to watch our cases very, very closely.”

She also suggested that Virginia and D.C. might not be in concert on coronavirus plans.

“I’m the mayor of Washington, D.C., and I am going to do what’s best for our jurisdiction, including letting the governors that surround us know what the data say in Washington,” Bowser said.

“Now, what we see in all of the jurisdictions, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, are growing case counts and continued community transmission. So, we know that opening up and people mixing in various ways are going to lead to increased infections.”

She said that making sure people stay home is the only way to be sure D.C. can safely open up.

Bowser also noted that there is no date yet for reopening the District, or entering Phase One.

“We are looking at several things before we enter Phase One of reopening that includes a sustained period of declining cases, looking at where we are with our hospital capacity, also looking at how we are going to be able through all the phases of reopening to test and track people coming back into the economy,” Bowser said.

“So we do not have a reopening or a Phase One date at this point.”

More Coronavirus news

DC adds more coronavirus cases, deaths

The District added 139 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the new total to 5,461.

There were also 14 new deaths. The total number of D.C. residents who have lost their lives due to COVID-19 stands at 277.

The racial disparities of the crisis continue: 79% of D.C. coronavirus deaths were black residents; 47% of total positive cases are black residents. By comparison, 10% of COVID deaths have been white, and white residents make up 16% of coronavirus cases.

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Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

Kyle Cooper

Weekend and fill-in anchor Kyle Cooper has been with WTOP since 1992. Over those 25 years, Kyle has worked as a street reporter, editor and anchor. Prior to WTOP, Kyle worked at several radio stations in Indiana and at the Indianapolis Star Newspaper.

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