If it felt crowded on the Mall or other tourist hot spots last year, that’s because it was: 21.9 million people from around the country visited the District in 2018 and spent $7.8 billion — both record numbers, the city’s official marketing organization said Tuesday.
Destination DC, a nonprofit organization funded by the city’s hotel occupancy tax, said the number of domestic visitors was an increase of 1.1 million over 2017. The amount they spent was up 4.3 percent from the previous year, the organization said.
The number of international tourists will drive the total number of visitors higher, but those figures won’t be available until later this year.
Tourism in the District last year resulted in $851 million paid in taxes to the city and helped to support more than 76,000 jobs, according to Destination DC.
In a statement, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the growth “reflects the overall strength and success of Washington.”
“From sporting events to restaurants to music venues and museums, we have more to do and see in our city than ever before,” the mayor said.
Elliott L. Ferguson II, Destination DC’s president, said a number of factors contributed to the hallmark year, including the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup, the unveiling of the portraits of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery and the first full year of business for the Wharf in Southwest Washington.
Despite the record-breaking year, he said, there is always room for more.
“We absorb it well,” Ferguson said. “We’re happy with these numbers. . . . We clearly can handle additional visitation.”
The figures put the District on track for a record number of visitors last year. It would be the ninth consecutive year for the city to top the previous year’s number.
The increase comes as other portions of the economy also are on strong footing. The District reached 700,000 residents last year, a number not seen since the 1970s. Though the unemployment rate has ticked up slightly in recent months, it remains below 6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Anirban Basu, a regional economist with the Maryland-based Sage Policy Group, said the numbers were “sheer good news.”
“I think it’s a great story and that great story can be even greater,” Basu said.
Terry L. Clower, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, said the number of visitors remained high partly because the U.S. economy remains strong and people have money for vacations. But with a robust technology sector and Amazon coming to Arlington, he said hospitality is just one part of the region’s economic engine.
“There is much to tell about the D.C. economy that isn’t either federal government or tourists,” he said.
It’s not yet clear how the nation’s longest-ever government shutdown earlier this year — an economic setback for local businesses and government contractors across the country — could affect 2019 numbers. Ferguson said he was skeptical the shutdown, which occurred in winter, would affect overall tourism totals.
“There’s nothing good about a government shutdown,” he said. “The silver lining is that it did not happen this time of year.”