Washington D.C. missing tourism boost with no inauguration crowd

Washington DC

WASHINGTON D.C. (WTRF) – We’ve grown used to the crowds of thousands of people pushing their way towards the U.S. Capitol on Inauguration Day, hoping to hear the words of the next President. 

But, we won’t see that this year. 

President-Elect Joe Biden’s inaugural committee told Americans to stay home and opted for a mostly virtual celebration. 

While that may keep people safe, it could be hurting the tourism industry in Washington D.C. 

The crowds that flood to the capitol usually boost the hotel industry with overnight stays, but it’s that industry that economists tell 7News is going to take a hit this year. 

It’s also probably going to impact visitors for inaugural events in the future, even when we don’t have a global pandemic to worry about. 

We’ll still maybe get crowds, but it’s gonna be a lot of people coming from here and not really hanging around.

Joshua Hall, Professor of Economics, West Virginia University

It’s the crowd that stays around who provides a boost to Washington D.C.’s economy. 

New research from WVU took a close look at the most recent inaugurations of Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump

While they can’t measure crowd size for certain, the hotel data shows a boost in bookings. 

There seemed to be a lot more ongoing long-run excitement over the second Obama inaugural. We see people, occupancy rates increasing up to four days prior to the actual inaugural, and with the Trump it’s only two days prior.

Joshua Hall, Professor of Economics, West Virginia University

But, there was an increase in people staying in the area after the Trump Inauguration. 

It’s hard to separate out the extent to which that was excitement over the Trump inaugural or all the associated protests.

Joshua Hall, Professor of Economics, West Virginia University

So, how does this compare to other tourist attractions, like sporting events? 

Inaugurations had four to six times higher occupancy rates.

Why not look at factors like money spent on dining?

Because hotel demand is actually a bigger part of consumer spending when it comes to studies of economic demand.

If you are traveling from out of town, yes, you’re going to go out to eat, yes you might spend money on shopping, but you’re probably spending, especially in a town like DC, something like $150 a night. That not only goes into the hotel economy because hotel taxes go directly into the city coffers.

Joshua Hall, Professor of Economics, West Virginia University

It’s not just the inauguration itself. There’s also the balls, parties and other social events that even have locals renting a place to stay.

Even if you were close, if you were going to those, I’m not driving home after this late night event. I’m just gonna get a hotel room.

Joshua Hall, Professor of Economics, West Virginia University

Hotels will lose that extra revenue this year, in a time when the industry is already struggling. 

Hall said this poses a larger concern when COVID-19 is no longer a factor. 

I think long-term we see a big change from the way inaugurations were historically. Starting probably with Bill Clinton’s inauguration, it really kind of became a big event. Not that it wasn’t big before, but it became even bigger and took on a large scale, and I’m worried we’ll never get back to that.

Joshua Hall, Professor of Economics, West Virginia University

The Trump and Obama inaugurations are not directly comparable because they landed on different days of the week, but both showed a significant increase in hotel occupancy. 

Something the D.C. area more than likely won’t see this week.  

Also, while this study had hotel data for the past 10 years, it did not have data to factor in rentals like Airbnb.

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