Mayor Bowser says DC is still on track for loosening restrictions come May 1

At a Thursday Earth Day news conference, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told FOX 5 DC the District is still on track to loosen COVID-19 restrictions come May 1, which would impact capacity limits for retail stores, entertainment venues and even museums.

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Those with Destination DC, the city’s tourism arm, are looking at this change as a step toward revitalizing Downtown DC’s economy: specifically the tourism sector. 

The District’s leisure sector, which includes tourism, saw a 58% job loss from February to December 2020, according to the Destination DC’s team tracking Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Anne Purcell, Director of Hospitality Market Analytics for CoStar Group, told FOX 5, "According to the latest forecast that we have, we’re at least another two years to the halfway point, and probably four years from full recovery. Because as you know, tourism is really important to the District, but it’s really only one component of overall travel to the city." 

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The other components include business travel and work conventions, said Purcell. FOX 5 is told 30% of hospitality demand comes from tourism/leisure.

Destination DC’s team provided FOX 5 with the following information on the District’s post-pandemic economic tourism loss:

- Visitor spending was down 68% or $5.9 billion (mid-March 2020 - Feb 2021)

- DC lost $435 million in tax revenue from visitor spending, down 48%.

- Hotel revenue down 85%, or $1.9 billion (source: STR, mid-March 2020 through the beginning of April 2021)

- Lost citywides and major events have cost us about $590 million in economic impact throughout 2020 and 2021.

"It’s going to take a longer time to recovery versus other markets like Miami on a beach, or perhaps, Miami or Dallas, states that have had fewer restrictions from the beginning," she added. 

Robin McClain, Destination DC’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, told FOX 5 they know through tourism economics that around 87% of people have a vacation planned over the next six months. McClain said Destination DC wants their fair piece of this -- but the message won’t be: "We’re open."

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McClain, who told FOX 5 the group, as the city’s tourism arm, is planning a new ad companion to begin in May, said they are hoping to draw visitors, "slowly but surely."

The group is also working to attract visitors to a city that been seen in national headlines since this past summer, involved in massive protests. Some of those protests turned violent. At one point the U.S. Capitol Building was turned into a fortress. 

"Well we know that that’s not the real Washington, right? We are DC. We are a city made-up of some fabulous neighborhoods in each ward of the city. And there are experiences throughout. And so what we’ll be working on over this next month is developing a ‘return to market’ recovery campaign, where we will launch close to Memorial Day to get people to come back to Washington, D.C."

"I think it has everything to do with our ability to crush the virus and get people vaccinated," said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday, "… I think we’re the state now that everybody who wants a vaccine or who has been the early adopters of getting a vaccine will have it."  

"I really that’s the key to businesses and tourists coming back to more normal activities," the Mayor also told FOX 5. 

Also important is a returning workforce.

Mayor Bowser said she believes around 90% of the city government’s employees have returned to work in-person. D.C. has also teamed-up with WeWork and WorkChew (an effort to transform hotel and restaurants in to safe work spaces for more unique options). 

The city still has a number of private office buildings with the lights off, but a few people in D.C.’s commercial real estate business told FOX 5 they are seeing positive movement. 

"It’s definitely in the early stages, but we are in recovery," Randy Harrell, CBRE Vice Chair, told FOX 5 on Thursday, "Primarily in-person tours, in the last 60 days, we’ve gone from a tour a week to at least a tour a day."

Harrell says they’re seeing an increase of interest in the more "forward thinking" work spaces, like 1050 17th St. NW. Harrell said the building actually began construction in 2016 and just opened last June, in the midst of the pandemic. The building offers more open spaces and some of the latest in air filtration technology. 

"Conversations have gone from, you know, how big are your fitness centers and your tenant lounges, to tell me your mechanical system and your air exchange ratios, level of filtration and how many times did it go through a filter before it actually gets into my space," said Harrell.