United States Capitol
Credit: Darrow Montgomery

In 2021, D.C. welcomed 19.1 million visitors, up from 13.3 million visitors in 2020, according to numbers shared by Destination DC, the District’s official marketing organization. And, as the city continues to heal from the COVID-19 pandemic, DDC is focused on returning to pre-pandemic visitation numbers.

The organization reports there are more than 26 new hotels or renovations in the pipeline, adding over 5,892 new or renovated rooms throughout D.C.

“We are very happy to have visitors from across the nation and around the world back in D.C. – visiting the many attractions in our city, dining in our restaurants, shopping at local businesses, staying in our hotels, and then telling people back home about all the fantastic things to do in Washington, D.C.,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said at DDC’s annual marketing outlook meeting on Aug. 31.  

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic 

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, D.C. welcomed 24.6 million total visitors (22.8 million domestic; 1.8 million from overseas) who generated $8.2 billion for the local economy and supported 79,675 jobs across all sectors. In 2021, 19.1 million visitors traveled to D.C., reaching 77.6 percent of 2019 levels. 

There were 18.8 million domestic visitors (up 44 percent over 2020) and 269,736 overseas visitors (up 21 percent over 2020). Visitors spent $5.4 billion (up 45 percent over 2020) and supported 57,933 local jobs (up 41 percent over 2020).

Throughout the pandemic, DDC concentrated on increasing overseas visitation, especially in top European markets where recovery potential is likely faster. In 2019, overseas visitors accounted for seven percent of visitation and 27 percent of the spend, so growing overseas market share through strategic sales and media missions could lead to a greater economic impact.

Typically, top and emerging markets for the nation’s capital include China, the UK, France, Germany, India and Australia.

“Travel’s future is promising and bright,” Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said at the meeting. “With a concerted effort to address today’s headwinds – including slow-to-return business travel and government-induced obstacles for international visitors – we’re confident that Washington, D.C. and the nation can achieve a full recovery.”

Future outlooks according to Destination DC

In 2023 and 2024, the city expects to welcome 18 and 20 citywide conventions. In an effort to help fill hotels during need periods, DDC also plans to grow corporate business opportunities and maximize the city’s sustainability offerings to attract groups. 

Major events, such as DC JazzFest, the return of Theatre Week for the first time since the pandemic and Major League Soccer’s All-Star Game are among numerous opportunities for travel. 

“We are going to keep spreading the word that D.C. is open, and we will keep giving people new ways to enjoy our city – from conferences and concerts, to festivals and 5Ks, and all the other events that bring people together and uplift the values and culture of our community,” Bowser said. 

Marketing the D.C. experience

DDC’s Experience DC advertising campaign targets prospective local, regional and national visitors showing signs of traveling. It is rooted in research of what travelers look for in D.C., and targets include eclectic cultural travelers, sports enthusiasts, foodies, and families. 

Paid social and influencer marketing are also important components: According to Destination Analysts, more than half of travelers decide to visit a destination after seeing it on their social media account.