Visitors return to D.C.

While the Pentagon, White House and FBI headquarters are among buildings remaining closed to students and their families visiting for graduation, D.C. tourism officials said the local economy is exceeding last year’s levels.

Hotel and restaurant managers said numbers returned to normal earlier this year and, more recently, surpassed last year’s totals with the recent protests and the Cherry Blossom Festival.

“We are definitely back to average … hotel occupancy has been climbing since March,” said Victoria Iseley, spokeswoman for the D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation.

Iseley also noted that the Metro system was at full capacity a few days in April and attendance at the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, from March 23-April 7, increased 20 percent over last year.

D.C. hotels are recovering more quickly than the national average, and occupancy rates surpassed last year’s numbers in March and April, according to Convention and Tourism Corporation numbers.

Hotels in the District saw more than 86 percent capacity throughout April, 12 percent higher than last year, the Convention and Tourism Corporation noted.

Local hotel officials said business from the government, World Bank and GW have kept business up.

“Occupancy rates went really down after September, with occupancy around 50-60 percent … but beginning in the January we were back to normal,” said Iris Martin, assistant front desk manager for the State Plaza Hotel on F Street. “We are one of the few lucky hotels not affected as much (by the recession).”

Officials from the Best Western Hotel on New Hampshire Avenue said the hotel is still recovering from the six month hit but business is getting better.

“Business should be a lot higher than last year … it picked up in April, but before that it was dead,” said Marvy Laluces, Best Western front office manager.

Laluces said the majority of local hotel business comes from the government while individual tourists account for 20- 25 percent of bookings. He said government buildings closed to tours are not greatly affecting business.

The Pentagon and FBI buildings have been closed to the public since Sept. 11 and have not set a date for restarting tours, said Randy DePree, a scheduler in Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL.) office. The Washington Monument recently re-opened to visitors, while the White House is only open to school groups.

DePree recommended families contact their local member of Congress for Capitol building tours and information regarding other tours of sites around D.C.

Students said they would rather spend time with family and that closed government buildings are not greatly affecting plans.

“(My family and I) have done the White House, Congress, the FBI … we will go to Union Station, restaurants and walk around,” said senior Josh Schoenberg. “Our options have not been limited that drastically by September 11.”

Senior Ana Rossetti-Morosini said she was looking for better places to talk to her family as opposed to tourist locations.

“It would be more of a task to plan all of those things than actual fun … we already have a lot of stress,” she said.

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