Tour guides and companies are mostly taking the government shutdown—which means the closure of the National Mall’s monuments, the bread and butter of the local tourism industry—in stride. “This isn’t high-high season for us,” says Tammy Belden, president of the Guild of Professional Tour Guides.

Foreign-language tours, however, remain a prominent exception.

“What you find this time of year, for whatever reason—and I have no idea why—is a lot of foreign-language tours,” Belden says. “My friends who have other languages are very busy right now, and this will be very hard for them.”

So, just a few hours into the shutdown, some foreign-language tour companies are scrambling. “Terrible” is how Potomac Tour Guides International general manager Blanca Cedillos describes the situation.

“We have been affected a lot,” she says. “Especially [with] the monuments.”

The result is that foreign-language tour companies have had to get creative, especially considering that their clients primarily come from overseas and can’t afford to cancel D.C. vacations due to Congressional bickering.

Maricar Donato, who operates WashingTours & Events and runs tours in French, German, Italian, and Spanish, plans to use iPads to show photos of interiors in lieu of the real attractions.

“It won’t be the same, but what we do as guides is make the most of it,” she says. She’s had no cancelations as of yet and is continuing ahead with a pre-scheduled walking tour of Chinatown this afternoon.

Donato knows, though, that she might have to work a bit harder now to create a good experience for her clients during the shutdown. “People still come,” she says. “We still have tours.

“Many of these guests will never come back here again.”


Correction: Due to an editing error, this post originally misspelled the name of Tammy Belden and incorrectly attributed a quote to Blanca Cedillos instead of Maricar Donato.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery