DC among most desired travel destinations for 2021 as COVID restrictions loosen

Washington, D.C. has once again ranked among "the most desired domestic destinations" during 2021, according to AAA. The ranking comes as COVID-19 restrictions in the District begin to loosen and more Americans become vaccinated.

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"The nation’s capital is on the wish list of travelers, just as the District updated its travel–related guidance for fully vaccinated out-of-state travelers, and as 24 states ease restrictions," said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. "Maryland has no travel restrictions in place for out-of-state travelers, as of March 12. Virginia and West Virginia have no travel restrictions."

According to AAA, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it was thought it would take at least five years before the tourism industry recovers in the D.C. area. 

Although 1.36 million people were screened at airport security checkpoints March 12, the highest tally since March 15, 2020, many Americans continue to "exhibit competing and complicated emotions around safety and travel." 

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The drop-off in tourism began last April, after quarantine orders were implemented in and around Washington. Until then, "Washington, DC enjoyed 10 years of record tourism growth before the pandemic started. In 2019, DC welcomed a record 24.6 million visitors, who spent $8.2 billion, generated $896 million in District tax revenue and were responsible for 78,266 jobs in DC," as Destination DC (DDC) reported February 5, 2021. "The pandemic reversed this trajectory as it did for cities around the globe."

"The pandemic has forced us to experience what happens when tourism falls precipitously. DC’s hospitality businesses are suffering, residents are unemployed and city tax revenue from visitor spending has dropped," said Elliott Ferguson, DDC President and CEO. "When the pandemic subsides, and more people are traveling, there’s going to be a lot of competition to win consumers back." 

With the number of COVID cases down and the number of people vaccinated up, there’s a fear many travelers will feel they don’t need to get tested. Dr. Tashof Bernton says now more than ever it’s important people continue to get tested.

"In most cases, if you got vaccinated and reach the full immunity, testing is not necessary. But if you haven’t been vaccinated, particularly if you’ve been traveling or if you’ve had exposure, testing is very important because we still have the possibility of non-symptomatic exposure," Dr. Bernton said.

Dr. Bernton wants everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated to do so. He’s helped launch the product ImmunaBand which is a bracelet with an engraved QR code that all vaccinated people can where. The QR code scans to the person’s vaccination card and works as proof of vaccination.

"After a year defined by divisions, we deserve to feel comfortable and safe in public. ImmunaBand will serve as the passport that returns us back to normal life," Dr. Bernton said.

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The question remains: what will be open and available to tourists visiting the District this spring? Here are a few updates on popular museums and attractions in D.C.

Artechouse: This immersive art museum has a new exhibit called "Renewal 2121" that explores topics from cherry blossom season to the global pandemic to climate change. It opened March 15 and will be available until Sept. 6. For more information on hours, ticketing and safety precautions, click here.

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens: Advanced reservations are required to visit the historic grounds near Rock Creek Park. Hillwood is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Mondays. Click here for more information.

Museum of the Bible: This museum is changing its hours of operation due to COVID-19 and will no longer be open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They are also offering free admission for National Guardsmen for a limited time. Click here for more information on hours and ticketing.

National Museum of Women in the Arts: Tickets for this museum must be reserved, but entry is still free for members. The museum also offers Free Community Days on the first and third Sundays of each month. Timed admission tickets are still required. Click here for more information.

Nationals Park: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has approved a 5,000 fan capacity at Nationals Park for the 2021 baseball season. The Nationals’ home opener is April 1 at 7:09 p.m. For the Nationals’ full schedule, click here.

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Smithsonian: The Smithsonian museums across D.C. remain closed, including the National Zoo. An opening date or timeline has not been released. FOX 5 will closely monitor any updates from the Smithsonian in the coming weeks and months.

Spy Museum: Contactless tickets are now being sold to visit the International Spy Museum. It is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and adjusted hours for Saturday and Sunday. Click here for more information on safety protocols and ticketing.

Phillips Collection: This art exhibit is offering a limited number of tickets on a weekly basis. Admission is free for members and tickets are also free for the first entry time of each hour as a special reopening promotion. For more information, click here.