Hotel Revenue Approaches $95 Million

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Washington region's hotels raked in $94.8 million over the four-day period surrounding President Obama's inauguration, a haul that was boosted by guests who paid an average $605 a night Jan. 20 to stay in the city.

The figures, provided yesterday by Destination DC, the city's official tourism arm, cover the period beginning Jan. 17 and ending Jan. 20, the day that Barack Obama was sworn in. The tourism revenue might far outpace the nearly $70 million that the District, Maryland, Virginia and Metro say they spent to provide transportation, law enforcement and other services for inaugural events.

Within the District's borders, the hotel occupancy rate was 84 percent Jan. 17, 95 percent Jan. 18, 98 percent Jan. 19 and 96 percent Jan. 20.

"Our city relies heavily on the revenues generated by travel and tourism. In today's troubled economy, tourism, meetings and events keep our residents employed," William A. Hanbury, president and chief executive of Destination DC, said in a statement.

The $94.8 million is only part of the windfall. It does not include revenue for food, beverages and catering, said Victoria Isley, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Destination DC. Hotels raised rates for the four-day weekend; January 2008 rates, in comparison, had an average night's stay going for $184.99.

Hotel tax in the District is 14.5 percent. The tax varies in other jurisdictions, with Maryland counties charging 5 to 8 percent and Virginia counties 9.5 to 10 percent, according to Destination DC.

The agency received the numbers from Smith Travel Research, a Tennessee-based company that tracks hotel occupancy and revenue across the country.

Steve Hood, a senior vice president for Smith, shared the news yesterday in a notice to the industry. He noted that the average daily rates were much higher than for other recent inaugurations. Ten hotels collected more than $1,000 a room for one or more nights, Hood wrote, and 286 had occupancy rates of 95 percent or higher for one or more of the dates.

There are 97,500 rooms in 600 hotels across the region. The region's best day for occupancy was Jan. 19, when 92 percent of the rooms were booked, followed by an 87 percent occupancy rate the next day.

The District, which has 27,500 rooms spread among 110 hotels, was responsible for more than $53 million of the hotel revenue.

Isley said Destination DC will have more solid figures and a bigger picture when Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi's office releases information about sales tax receipts for that period. Gandhi said he expects to report the numbers by Feb. 20.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, will hold a public hearing Thursday on the revenue and costs of the inauguration. Congress has given $15 million to the District to cover costs, but the city, Maryland and Virginia have requested a combined $75 million reimbursement -- a number that appears to have dipped slightly, based on interviews with representatives for the local governments. The District is accounting for $47 million of that request, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said.

The White House declared an emergency before the inauguration to allow the affected jurisdictions to tap into federal disaster funds.

Metro wants more than $5 million to cover its costs.

Virginia is asking for about $7.1 million, much of it related to the $3.9 million spent by the Virginia Department of Transportation, said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). He also noted that the state spent $500,000 to provide shuttle buses.

Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said his state is still tabulating. Baltimore was a stop on Obama's train ride to Washington from Philadelphia on Jan. 17.

Although local agencies in Maryland have tallied $7.5 million spent over four days, the estimate does not include costs for overtime, travel and planning. Those categories are not reimbursable under federal guidelines, McDonough said.

Tangherlini said reimbursement discussions are underway with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "They'll tell us what the number is," he said. "We're the applicant."

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