- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Triple-digit temperatures, remnants of a hurricane, miles of road construction, and let’s not forget that August earthquake.

The District had a tough time last year in terms of weather and fortune, but according to tourism officials, the city’s offerings nevertheless motivated visitors to spend $6 billion during their stay, a 6.2 percent boost from 2010 and evidence that Washington continues to be near the top of the list of world destinations.

“We’re not 100 percent surprised, said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC. “The economy is moving in the right direction … and there are so many things to do in D.C. that are free.”

The District’s ability to deliver on a tight budget is just one of the reasons why the growth was seen, Mr. Ferguson explained Tuesday. He was joined by tourism and city officials to announce that for the sixth year in a row, the District raked in more than $5.5 billion from tourism and conventions. That amount includes dollars spent on hotels, restaurants, transportation and attractions.

Destination DC is the city’s official convention and visitors bureau. The numbers were released on the lawn of the Carnegie Museum, across from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where a steady stream of convention-goers made their way inside.

“We’ve seen positive signs that business is getting back on track, as major citywide meetings and conventions are posting solid gains in attendance,” said Gregory O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC.

The District has embraced its identity partly as a place for large meetings, but “I don’t think it will ever top tourism,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, as he stood outside his bright blue “Vote Travel” tour bus, which is traversing the country to increase support for the tourism industry.

“So many people come from countries outside the U.S. to see where America started,” Mr. Dow said. During the summer, there are groups of students all over the District, visiting for field trips.

“You can’t say that about most places,” Mr. Dow said.

Destination DC partnered with two firms to arrive at its tourism and economic-impact numbers. The number of visitors to the District was based on estimates using nationwide tourism figures. The total economic impact is derived from average amounts visitors spend, a spokeswoman said.

Last year, about 18 million people visited the District, making it the sixth-most-popular place to visit in the United States.

Of the money spent by tourists last year, the District pocketed about $600 million in taxes, officials said. More than half of the sales tax generated in the city comes from visitor spending, according to the tourism agency.

During last year’s monthlong National Cherry Blossom Festival alone, the city took in $126 million in revenue.

The largest boost in visitor spending between 2010 and 2011 came from transportation costs other than airfare, including money spent on trains, vehicles and buses. Travelers to the District spent $473.4 million to get to the area, up more than $52 million from 2010. A Destination DC spokeswoman said part of that increase came from the significant increase in gas prices.

A nearly 9 percent increase in retail purchases from 2010 also contributed to the spending jump. In 2011, tourists spent close to $700 million in shops, though they spent the most on accommodations — about $2.14 billion.

The hospitality industry, which includes hotels, restaurants, transportation sources and retailers, also added jobs between 2010 and 2011. The industry, which is the District’s second-largest employer behind the federal government, increased its total number of jobs by 7 percent from 64,500 to 76,000 jobs. The boost, a spokeswoman for Destination DC said, is attributed to the increase in travelers coming to the city and the need for more help.

“These are jobs you can’t outsource,” Mr. Dow said. “You can’t take it for granted. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s an American issue.”