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Unsigned Contracts Free Up 4,500 Area Hotel Rooms

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Several thousand hotel rooms have become available for the presidential inauguration, a District tourism official said yesterday.

About 1,500 rooms inside the Capital Beltway and 3,000 outside the Beltway became available last week, when advance room contracts were not signed, said William A. Hanbury, president of Destination DC, the District's official convention and tourism corporation.

"They're not cheap," he said of the rooms, but "if you want them, you better go after them." Local rooms last week were averaging about $650 a night, another tourism expert said.

All the hotels are "holding their inventory very closely," Hanbury said, and the newly opened rooms are not listed on travel Web sites. He recommended that people interested in lodging go to http://www.washington.org for information. People can also call DestinationDC at 800-422-8644 to find available rooms.

Hanbury and three other officials spoke about the inauguration at a briefing for business leaders that was held on K Street, downtown.

Among other things, the officials indicated that 35,000 people have signed up to volunteer at inaugural events, that there would be 60 medical tents to serve sick or injured inauguration-goers and that the inaugural parade might be lengthened by 30 minutes because so many groups want to march.

The experts urged patience and advance planning for everyone.

"Its a four-day weekend," Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said of the Jan 17-to-20 inauguration period. "People can expect to arrive on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and, personally, I expect all of them to leave on Wednesday." Inauguration Day is Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Hanbury, of DestinationDC, said excitement over the inauguration is generating heightened interest in Washington in general. "The numbers for Presidents' Day weekend, for example, are way up," he said. "Bookings for the National Cherry Blossom Festival are way up." The Lincoln Bicentennial, in February, is also generating enthusiasm, he said.

Hanbury said overseas interest in the inauguration has been high. "International folks from around the world are extremely interested in President-elect Obama and in Washington D.C.," he said. "The amount of interest that we're receiving from international media . . . is quite extraordinary."

He said it would be important for visitors to arrive and leave happy.

Dinegar and the other officials urged business leaders to plan -- especially for emergencies. Charlie Fisher of James Lee Witt Associates, a Washington emergency preparedness firm, said business people should get to know fire and police officials. You don't want to meet the fire chief "the day your building's on fire," he said.

Steve Kral, an official with the city's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the inauguration would be the biggest security challenge the city has ever faced. He noted that city officials are talking to hotels to find lodging for the 4,000 extra law enforcement officers being brought in.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Inaugural Committee yesterday announced the first 49 groups that have accepted invitations to march in the parade. The committee said the list will grow as other groups accept. In the past, about 100 groups have marched.

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