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Washington DC Tourism Rebounds Despite Economic Downturn

Tourists outside a Washington D.C. museum

Tourists outside a Washington D.C. museum

Tourism officials in Washington say the U.S. economic downturn is forcing many Americans to scale back and even cancel their traditional vacation plans. But in the nation's capital, tourist visits are up.

International travelers are behind the surge in tourists visiting Washington, offsetting a drop-off in the number of American tourists visiting the city.

"Overall our numbers are down less than five percent in terms of our domestic travelers to the Washington region," said Elliott Ferguson is president of Destination DC, the city's official tourism board."However, international travel continues to be the area we have the most amount of optimism."

Ferguson says hotel occupancy rates in Washington remained about the same through June - around 76 percent. But the latest available figures for types of visitors show that 1.4 million overseas travelers visited Washington last year - a nine percent increase over the year before, making the capital one of the top U.S. destinations for international visitors.

"Brazilians like coming to Washington to see and appreciate the monuments and the museums that are known around the world," said Brazilian tourist Raquel Soares. "There are also less visa requirements, making it easier for Brazilians to come to the U.S."

Matt Gaffney, president of Capital Region USA, a tourism marketing firm, says the number of visitors from Brazil is up 29 percent.

"In years past we saw them [Brazilians] perhaps more oriented to Europe," he said. "They are now giving the U.S. a good strong look and they are choosing to come [to Washington] here just as much perhaps as going to Europe."

Other overseas tourists (excluding Canada and Mexico) coming to Washington in increasing numbers are from Britain, Germany, Australia, China and France.

"This is a great nation and by visiting Capitol Hill, I see how this nation was founded and where it originated," said Wen Yang from China, who was enjoying Washington with her family.

Tourism officials say the increased number of international visitors to the capital area offsets the number of Americans who have cut back on their travel plans due to the economy. Analysts say international tourists also spend more money than American travelers with an average stay of seven nights. In addition to food and lodging, overseas travelers on average spend $2,000.

"The international market is the market that continues to grow the fastest," said Elliott Ferguson of Destination DC. "It is one of the smallest segments, but it is an extremely important segment just strictly from an economic prospective. They tend to spend more, they stay longer and their currency is doing much better than the dollar right now. "

A video is a part of Destination DC's efforts to promote more international tourism by highlighting attractions, including Washington's many monuments, free museums and annual events such as the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Folklife Festival.

Tourism officials also have launched web sites to appeal to overseas visitors.

"Within two hours you can be in the Blue Ridge Mountains or sampling some Virginia or Maryland wine and a little further away is the beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches," said Capital Region USA President Matt Gaffney.

Washington tourism officials say they expect the remainder of this year to be as good as the past year, with more international tourists visiting the nation's capital.