For the eighth consecutive year, the nation’s capitol has topped its own tourism record.
D.C. government recently reported that about 20.8 million people visited the city from across the United States, a 4.2 percent jump over 2016, again setting a record for tourists visiting the city in a given year. The organization is slated to announce its international visitation totals on Tuesday, which officials said are expected to show an upward trajectory.
“We’ve seen several years of consecutive growth in tourism to Washington, D.C., and we anticipate another record year for 2017,” said Elliott Ferguson II, president and chief executive of Destination DC. “At the end of the day, what we do to attract visitors is economic development.”
Visitors spent $7.5 billion over that time, according to an analysis by the research firm IHS Markit, about 60 percent of it coming from business travelers. According to Destination D.C. that spending supported about 75,000 jobs in the District.
Regional economists said the city’s eight-year run is probably a side-effect result of better economic fortunes nationally and globally. Despite a strong dollar, would-be travelers are finding they have enough room in their budget to visit the District.
The area’s tourism numbers also may have seen a boost from the MGM Casino at National Harbor, Md., which opened its doors in late 2016 and would have been a major recipient of regional tourist spending throughout 2017.
That has helped drive the city’s hospitality industry -- a job category that includes services jobs in bars, restaurants and hotels, to become a more important part of the regional economy. That sector added about 4,000 new jobs in the one-year period leading to June, according to data maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Jobs associated with the tourism industry don’t tend to pay as well as those in government or technology sectors. And they tend to be less secure, as an economic downturn could cause foot traffic to plunge in the future. Still, the availability of new entry-level jobs is doubtlessly appreciated by those entering the job market for the first time.
“The leisure and hospitality sector is way outperforming its historical share of the job market,” said Stephen Fuller, a regional economist with George Mason University.
Anirban Basu, a regional economist with Sage Policy Group, said the D.C. area’s tourism sector is being pulled along by a still-strong national and global economy. Travelers from elsewhere add a lot to the regional economy, he said, because those coming from elsewhere are bring in new spending from outside the region.
“While there’s been all this talk about tariffs and trade wars, the fact is that the global economy is performing reasonably well this year,” he said. “From a macroeconomic perspective that’s the big factor."
The extra foot traffic has coincided with a generally strong local job market. The D.C. area added about 50,000 jobs in the one-year period ending in June, much of it driven by government contractors hiring in the city’s outer suburbs. Unemployment rates have remained low: 5.6 percent in the District, 4.3 percent in Maryland and 3.2 percent in Virginia.