- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

A record turnout for the National Cherry Blossom Festival marked not only the advent of spring, but also served as a sign that downtown Washington is once again a hotbed for tourism.

“We’ve come a long way since September 11,” said Victoria Isley, a spokeswoman for the Washington D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp. (WCTC). “And 2005 figures seem to indicate it could be the best tourism year ever.”

More than 1 million people took in the sights and sounds of the 93rd annual festival, according to officials. Children climbed trees and flew kites along the Tidal Basin and on the Mall, while throngs of tourists took in live music on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial.

Diana Mayhew, the festival’s executive director, estimated that 100,000 people attended Saturday’s Cherry Blossom Parade.

“With the combination of key festival events and Mother Nature, [attendance] has been record-breaking,” Miss Mayhew said.

Last weekend’s festival also boosted Metro ridership. Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said 568,474 passengers rode Metro Saturday, for the fifth-highest ridership on a Saturday in its 29-year-history.

Mr. Taubenkibel said 332,778 passengers rode Metro Sunday. Metro normally carries 400,000 to 500,000 people on an average weekend, and officials said the combination of warm weather and the cherry blossoms produced the spike in ridership last weekend.

“It’s a great sign,” Mr. Taubenkibel said. “We normally see the ridership tend to pick up around the start of cherry blossom season, and we usually see some strong numbers into the summer months.”

Although attendance at the festival was largely unaffected in the years after the September 11 attacks, WCTC officials said the tourism industry took a large hit in the days following the attacks.

The number of Washington’s domestic visitors climbed from 17.6 million in 2000 to 18.1 million in 2001, according to the Travel Industry Association. That figure fell to 16.5 million in 2002 and to 15.9 million in 2003, according to the WCTC.

Last year, hotel occupancy in the District rebounded to 72.8 percent, just shy of the record mark of 72.9 percent set in 2000.

Events such as the 55th presidential inauguration in January — which generated an estimated $44.6 million in incremental visitor spending — and the arrival of a Major League Baseball team have officials predicting a record-breaking year for D.C. tourism.

Tourism officials estimate that the arrival of the Washington Nationals will cause visitors to spend $31.4 million annually at hotels and restaurants. About $19.9 million in revenue will be generated through money spent on rooms and at hotel restaurants and stores.

The WCTC estimates that about 5 percent of people who attend baseball games will stay in hotels, meaning that fans and visiting teams will need more than 84,000 rooms during the season.

“It’s started off to be a great year,” Miss Isley said. “We anticipate that to continue throughout the rest of the spring season and into the summer.”

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