POLITICS

Tourists flock to D.C. despite sequester closures

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Politics,Local,DC,Matt Connolly

Visitors to D.C. in the past few months have arrived to find fewer open attractions than they were expecting due to both politics and sheer force of nature.

The Washington Monument was closed to visitors in 2011 after the Virginia earthquake caused structural damage. The iconic obelisk, now enclosed in scaffolding, likely won't be open again until 2014.

While there's nothing Washington can do to prevent earthquakes, the other source of closures -- the federal budget cuts known as the sequester -- certainly should have been easier to avoid. White House tours were canceled, the Arlington House dropped its extended summer hours, Smithsonian art museums cut back on exhibits and lines at local airports began growing in the wake of thriftier spending by federal agencies. Beginning next week, the National Arboretum will close Tuesday through Thursday and charge entrance fees.

"The fact is that the federal government is doing exactly the wrong thing in a recovery," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said. "Half of the sales tax in the District of Columbia comes from the tourism industry. You don't fool with this industry, you bow to this industry."

Such closures, however, are not likely to affect Americans' travel plans in the near future, according to Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis. That's especially true for those traveling to D.C. for business meetings and conventions.

"Most of those are scheduled well ahead of time," Fuller said. "They come to conduct business and meet with Congress -- there may even be more business there, thanks to the sequester."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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