- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The number of visitors to the nation’s capital last year surpassed pre-September 11 levels for the first time and is continuing to grow.

Nearly 18.8 million domestic and international travelers visited Washington in 2004 — up about 8.6 percent from 2003, according to a report from the Washington DC Convention & Tourism Corp. (WCTC).

Officials credit the surge in tourism in part to new attractions such as the National World War II Memorial and the National Museum of the American Indian and the effect of business from the new convention center.

“Last year was a strong year for the tourism industry in Washington, D.C.,” said William A. Hanbury, WCTC’s president and chief executive officer. “It’s rewarding to know that so many travelers responded to our invitation to include Washington, D.C., in their 2004 travel plans.”

The Washington area hosted more than 17.7 million domestic visitors last year — a more than 8 percent increase over the nearly 16.4 million visitors from 2003. International visitation jumped 22 percent to nearly 1.06 million travelers.

Last year’s travel figures are the highest since 1998, when the city attracted nearly 19.2 million domestic and international visitors. The number of travelers has climbed steadily each year since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“Travel is a powerful way to bridge cultures and generations,” said Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “We’re delighted to learn that so many domestic and international travelers have come to Washington, D.C., to discover our national treasures and to take part in the American experience.”

Tourism officials say the industry continues to see an uptick in business this year.

The city’s hotel occupancy through June was 76.4 percent — up from 75.4 percent occupancy for the same period in 2004, according to Smith Travel Research, which tracks hotel occupancy.

It has been a good year so far for leisure travel, particularly with the 55th presidential inauguration in January, which generated an estimated $44.6 million in visitor spending.

Much of the business travel’s growth has been spurred by the new Washington Convention Center, which will host nearly 40 major conventions by the end of the year, generating more than 570,000 room nights. That is more than double the amount of rooms generated by the old convention center in 2002.

Total conventions and meetings booked at the convention center for this year will generate more than 1 million hotel room nights and $705.2 million in direct spending.

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