As the viewing stands go up and women shop for the perfect ball gowns, Washington-area businesses are gearing up for economic boosts from the activities of the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

Though the economic impact will not be as significant as it was in 2009 when almost 2 million people converged on the nation’s capital for the historic swearing in of the first Black president, hotels, restaurants, souvenir vendors and others are expecting to see huge sales.

“It’s still a big event in terms of D.C. tourism, but not as big as the last one,” said Max Farrow, a spokesperson for the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.

Festivities in 2009 drew an estimated 1.8 million people, the largest crowd ever at the National Mall, according to authorities. This year, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) officials expect ridership in the 500,000 – 800,000 range, many fewer than Inauguration Day 2009, but still a very busy day. Most inaugurations draw a crowd of around 400,000, officials said.

Visitors to the city typically generate “$336 in expenditures” per person, according to Farrow. By this measurement, the city would gain more than $200 million over the weekend.

“It’s still a lot of money,” Farrow said. “Lodging, transportation and food and beverage will receive the bulk of the impact.”

According to Destination D.C., hotel rooms are still available, unlike in 2009 when hotel occupancy “was at 98%,” said Farrow. Plans by city residents to offer up their homes for exorbitant rents for the weekend have been dashed. In 2009, medium-sized homes rented for thousands of dollars for a single week during the inauguration.

In Prince George’s, a few hotels in close proximity to the Metro and city are sold out.

“The Clarion Inn in College Park and The Radisson Hotel in Largo are sold out,” said Carl Smith, marketing manager for the Prince George’s County Conference and Visitors Bureau. “A property like the Radisson may see an $80,000 increase in revenue during January due to the inauguration.”

The local tourism industry welcomes the bump.

“It’s great to have an event in January like this,” said Merrie Morris, spokeswoman for the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, adding that local residents are likely to come out in bigger numbers during festivities.

Small business owners are especially excited, officials said.

“This is a boom of opportunity for small business to be able to take full advantage of the festivities,” said David Harrington, president and CEO of the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce. “This offers tremendous opportunity for street and food vendors to event planners because there are various inauguration events.”

Business owners lucky enough to score inaugural contracts are grateful for the work.
Jody Manor, owner of the Bittersweet Café and Catering Company in Alexandria, said he is providing food for the 400 attendees of the Servant Forge Humanitarian Ball at Reagan National Airport on January 20.

“We’re a very community-minded business, so we’re very honored to have been chosen to do their event,” Manor said.

Manor said fewer merchants inquired about providing services and products this year. “We’re not making history this time,” he said.

The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor has been completely booked for event space and hotel rooms due to the inauguration weekend and another large conference, officials said. The Texas State Society will host their Black Tie and Boots Ball there for the second time. The 2009 ball brought more than 10,000 people to the waterfront hotel.

“It’s really good news. God bless the Texas State Society for spending money ,” said Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.

Smith also predicts a slight increase in restaurant traffic in pedestrian-friendly areas such as National Harbor.

“Some properties will do much better than others but the reality is the inauguration brings guests, attention and revenue that otherwise would not be there,” he said.

Teria Rogers

Special to the AFRO