Study: National Mall a nearly $800 million annual payday for D.C.

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Local,Courtney Zott

The annual throngs of tourists that descend upon the National Mall throughout the year are bringing with them -- and spending -- a massive chunk of change.

More than 24 million Mall visitors spent about $792 million throughout the District in 2010, according to a new report from George Mason University and the National Park Service. Nationwide, the only place park visitors spent more is California, which is nearly 2,500 times the size of D.C. and has 25 national parks.

Most of this money is spent on the basics: a place to sleep and a place to eat. Retail follows in second, and entertainment comes in third as the most popular cash magnets.

Where those
tourist dollars go
Lodging, food and beverages: 52 percent
Retail: 29 percent
Entertainment/amusements: 10 percent
Gas and local transportation: 7 percent
Groceries: 2 percent
Source: "Economice Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll, 2010"

The revenue stream in general surges greatly during the spring season, said Min Park, an assistant professor at the School of Recreation, Health and Tourism at George Mason.

"Especially this year because of the length [of the festival], we expect more people to come out," she told The Washington Examiner after announcing the school's findings at a National Cherry Blossom Festival news conference on Thursday.

The festival traditionally runs for two weeks. Last year's festivities generated about $126 million. But organizers extended it to five weeks this year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Japan's gift of cherry blossom trees to the United States. The longer festival is expected to pull in a record amount of cash. So far, bookings are up 24 percent from last year at the 55 hotels participating in the festival's special lodging packages, according to Destination DC.

And so, like Florida "owns" spring break and California "owns" summer ...

"From here forth let it be known that D.C. owns spring," said Destination DC Chairman Gregory McCarthy.

At $5.6 billion last year, travel and tourism trails only the federal government as the leading industry in the District, McCarthy said. Visitors paid about $622 million in local tax revenue last year, he said.

With such a promising outlook, could a longer festival become the norm?

"We're going to evaluate it and see if it's even a sustainable option," said festival President Diana Mayhew.

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Courtney Zott

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner