Holiday Draws Frugal Travelers to the District

By Emma L. Carew
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 4, 2009

The $4-a-gallon reign of terror from last summer may be history, but travelers remain cost-conscious this holiday weekend.

Jack and Denise Curley, of Munson, Pa., drove down for the weekend with their kids, Foxx, 9, and Logan, 12, who had never seen Washington before.

The family doesn't usually travel over the Fourth of July, Denise said, but Jack had reward points for a free hotel stay from his work trips.

"We don't want to spend a lot," Denise said. The family chose Washington because they could go to museums such as the Smithsonian for free, she said.

Area businesses are hoping to capitalize on tourists such as the Curleys amid the recession.

Destination DC, a private, nonprofit alliance of area businesses, launched an advertising campaign with local visitors in mind, pushing the District and surrounding areas as a budget-friendly vacation spot.

Occupancy at area hotels through April was down slightly from last year, according to Rebecca Pawlowski, director of communications for Destination DC. And despite last summer's concerns about gas prices and the economy, attendance at "the attractions were fairly flat year over year," she said.

Washington nevertheless remains a popular Fourth of July spot, Pawlowski said. "Certainly there's a lot of symbolism, a lot of patriotism," she said.

Mark Shouger, rooms division director at the Madison Hotel, said the Northwest D.C. inn was just about full, partially because of a promotion to attract "local drive-in traffic," which included the promise of valet parking with a room.

"We couldn't be any busier," Shouger said.

Hotels faced tough times in the first quarter of the year, according to data reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Of the six spending areas the BEA tracks in the tourism industry, traveler accommodations posted the highest quarterly decline, at 18.6 percent. At the same time, accommodation rates decreased 15.1 percent, an attempt to generate demand.

The most recent numbers posted by STR, a hotel benchmarking firm, show that Washington was one of the only markets to report an increase in occupancy for the week ending June 27.

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