A father and son sit on a bench gazing at the White House with the Washington Monument towering behind them,a school teacher leads a group of anxious seventh graders up Pennsylvania Avenue for the kids' first look at the White House and a group of travelers from London stroll by in the opposite direction.
They utter the words,“wow” and “it's beautiful” and a look of awe can be seen on their faces.
Last year,Washington attracted an estimated 17.6 million domestic and 1 million international visitors. However,there was a 3 percent drop in the number of domestic visitors to Washington in 2002,according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
Victoria Isley,vice president of marketing and communications for the Travel Industry Association,said TIA found more visitors stayed overnight in 2002 than in 2001,but the number of day trips decreased significantly. She said this was different than other locations in the United States.
“We bucked a national trend on both sides,” Isley said.
In an attempt to increase domestic tourism in Washington,TIA is embarked on a $750,000 promotion called summer freedom savings. The promotion includes discounts on more than 60 Washington hotels and reduced pricing on tours and attractions such as a walking tour of the Capitol and tickets to a show at the Kennedy Center. Every hotel package in the promotion includes admission to the City Museum of Washington,which just opened this year.
Isley said TIA does not collect data about why people chose not to come to Washington. However,she said events like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,the war in Iraq and national terror alerts have had an effect on some visitors' decisions.
“There were some that canceled after Sept. 11,” Isley said.
However,there are signs of hope. Isley said that the number of school groups booking trips has increased since the national terror alert was lowered on May 30 from orange,a high risk of a terrorist attack,to yellow,an elevated risk of an attack.
Lois Murray,a seventh-grade history teacher at Ezra Academy in Woodbridge,Conn.,said she never thought about canceling her class's trip to Washington. However,she said a few parents were originally concerned but did not have any objections after the terror alert went down.
“This is our nation's capital,” Murray said. “We can't be chased away from the educational value it brings.”
She also noticed the number of school groups she has seen around Washington has dramatically increased from her school's trip last year.
“Last year it was like a ghost town,” Murray said.
Marilyn Matthews,owner of the hotel-booking agency Washington DC Accommodations,said there are signs of hope even though her business has been down around 15 percent since Sept. 11.
“There are some really good signs of optimism,” Matthews said. “The adjustment is beginning to happen.”
Matthews said travelers have been less reactive to terror alerts and world events than they were after Sept.11. She said there were no changes in her bookings when the terror alert was at orange.
Despite increased optimism in domestic visitors to Washington,international visitors have been sharply on the decline. The number of international visitors has dropped from 1.48 million in 2000 to an estimated 1 million in 2002,according to figures from TIA.
The Commerce Department was approved to spend $50 million on advertising and promotional campaigns aimed at international visitors in an attempt to combat the drop in visitors.
Doug Baker,the deputy assistant secretary of commerce for service industries,tourism and finance,said a board of businesses that would help decide where and how the money is spent will be announced in July. He said top markets such as Canada,Mexico and Japan would likely be the focus.
This is the first year money has been allocated toward attracting international visitors to the United States since the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration was closed in 1996 because of budget constraints,Baker said. Although he said the Commerce Department is hopeful money will be allocated in the future,they are not counting on it.
“We're looking at this as a one time shot in the arm,” Baker said.