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D.C. registers record visitation in 2018 despite drop in international visitors

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23.8 million people visited the District, most domestic travelers

A Roman-style memorial with large columns and a dome. The memorial has a wide staircase and sits next to a basin.
The Jefferson Memorial

Overall visitation to the nation’s capital rose 4.4 percent in 2018, to 23.8 million people from 22.8 million people in 2017, city marketing entity Destination DC said Tuesday. The increase was driven by a 5.2 percent spike in domestic visitors (21.9 million), even though the number of overseas visitors decreased 5.3 percent, to 1.9 million. Of particular note, the total tally of visitors from China—still the no. 1 country for foreign visitation—fell 25 percent, to 226,000.

2018 was the ninth year in a row that visitation grew, according to Destination DC. The data include both business and leisure visitors and were variously compiled by McLean, Virginia-based tourism research firm DK Shifflet, London-based analytics firm IHS MarkitIHS, and the U.S. Commerce Department. In a statement, Destination DC CEO Elliott Ferguson said the drop in Chinese tourism is part of a national trend, especially among vacation and first-time visitors, who tend to travel to the District in large numbers relative to other U.S. cities.

“There are bright spots in the China market, however, with length of stay up 27% and room nights up 72%, so it’s more important than ever to maintain our strong market presence,” he said. “In addition to leveraging in-market representation in China, India and Australia, we’ll build on the momentum of rebounds as seen in an uptick in visitors from the UK and Brazil.”

In order of magnitude, the top countries for overseas travel to D.C. were China, the United Kingdom, India, Germany, Brazil, Australia, France, South Korea, Italy, and Spain. Overseas visitors (who do not include the significant number of Canadian and Mexican visitors) were 8 percent of the District’s aggregate visitation. 2018 visitor spending was a record $7.8 billion, said Destination DC, an increase of 4.3 percent as compared with 2017. Leisure and business travelers represented 61 and 39 percent shares of D.C.’s total number of visitors, respectively.

A few major District tourism sites are anticipated to open or reopen in the coming months, including the Kennedy Center’s new REACH addition, the Washington Monument, and the city’s first-ever language museum, Planet Word. The monument will reopen September 19.