DC tourism rises, though experts predict downturn


WASHINGTON – The number of visitors to Washington rose in 2007 and is holding steady this year, though tourism officials are bracing for a decline in 2009 because of the weakening U.S. economy, according to statistics released Wednesday.

A steady increase in the number of international visitors in recent years could help offset a possible decline in the number of leisure travelers and conventions held in the city. Also, the inauguration of either Barack Obama or John McCain as the next president is expected to rejuvenate international interest in the city, said William Hanbury, president and chief executive of the tourism bureau Destination D.C.

“There’s a sea change taking place, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican,” Hanbury said, adding he believes the Bush administration policies damaged the U.S. image around the world. “If we start reaching out and acting a bit more collegially internationally, we’re going to be in better shape.”

Washington tourism saw a sharp decline following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a loss of about 2 million visitors annually compared with figures from 2000. With steady increases in international travel, officials expect the number of foreign visitors will rebound to pre-9/11 levels by 2011.