Destination DC (DDC) has reiterated its efforts to continue driving overseas visitation to Washington, DC, in partnership with new representation in key markets: China, Australia and India, as well as a continued relationship with its agency of record in the United Kingdom.

Elliott L. Ferguson, II
President and CEO, Destination DC

In 2017, the nation’s capital welcomed a record 22.8 million total visitors, up 3.6 percent over 2016. Of those visitors, DC saw 20.8 million domestic (up 4.2 percent) and 2 million overseas (up 1.3 percent). Due to revised data from the U.S. Department of Commerce released in late 2018 dating back several years, there have been shifts in some of DC’s top overseas markets.

“While we were thrilled to see overseas visitation grow by 26,000 people in 2017, we are faced with certain realities about global economies as well as the political climate and how the U.S. is perceived from an international perspective,” said Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO, Destination DC. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to provide a welcoming message and know that dedicated representation will allow us to maintain market share and reach more leisure and business groups in established and emerging markets.” 

China continues to be DC’s strongest market with 302,000 visitors in 2017, down 3.1 percent over 2016. Washington, DC held its market share of about 10 percent of China’s visitors to the U.S., meaning one out of every 10 Chinese visitors to the U.S. came to DC. DDC continues its efforts to market to Chinese tourists on WeChat with about 18,000 followers and its City Experience Mini Program, as well as its Welcome China member certification program, now up to 73 certified members.

The top 10 overseas markets for Washington, DC in 2017 are, in order of visitation: China, United Kingdom, South Korea, India, Germany, France, Australia, Brazil, Italy and Japan. Though overseas visitors represent 9% of the total number of visitors to DC, international visitors [overseas visitors plus visitors from Canada and Mexico] represent 27% of the visitor spending.

“Despite some of the challenges, like Brexit, which is causing a lot of uncertainty in the UK, there are also opportunities,” said Theresa Belpulsi, vice president of tourism, sports and visitor services, Destination DC. “Last year, we started the stopover program for the UK market, which provides two free nights for tourists in DC, a major value-added benefit meant to extend length of stay. The pilot program has been so successful that we’ve received additional funds from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to expand the program in the Netherlands, Switzerland and China.”

India and Australia, DC’s fourth and seventh overseas markets respectively, continue to show strong growth potential. In 2017, visitation from India grew 31.5 percent with 135,000 visitors. While Australian visitation dropped slightly to 80,000 visitors (down 1.7 percent), DC maintained its market share of Australian visitors to the U.S. Other markets performing strongly for DC in 2017 include South Korea, DC’s third market with 136,000 visitors, up 45.5 percent, benefiting from a favorable exchange rate and strong economy. Brazil, DC’s eighth market, saw gains of 46 percent with 71,000 visitors in 2017 as the country is emerging from a recession. Washington, DC’s market share increased .9 percent.

Additional nonstop flights support visitation. In 2018, new air service started into Dulles International Airport from Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific and seasonal service from Edinburgh on United Airlines. In 2019, new nonstop air service will begin from Rome on Alitalia in May, Tel Aviv on United in May and Lisbon on TAP Air in June.

New hotel inventory, attractions, renovations are a draw, with $11.2 billion in development underway. There are 18 hotels in the pipeline adding 3,987 rooms to the city, including The Conrad Washington, DC and Hilton Washington DC National Mall, both anticipated to open in the first quarter of 2019.