News / USA

Tourists Scramble to See Sights Ahead of Possible Government Shutdown

Tourists on the National Mall in Washington
Tourists on the National Mall in Washington

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Jeff Swicord

It is a busy time of year here in the U.S. capital, a time when visitors from around the world come to Washington to see the sights, visit the city's many national museums and attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  But something ominous is hanging over Washington and the tourist trade.

Springtime in Washington.  The flowers are blooming, leaves are coming out on trees and tourists are returning to museums around the National Mall.  

But with a budget agreement stalled on Capitol Hill and a government shutdown looming, the nation’s monuments and museums may have to close their doors after Friday.  Tourists are scrambling to see the sights.  

Leslee Samuelson and her son Keith from Atlanta, Georgia changed their schedule to make sure they get to see the popular National Air and Space Museum.

“We are going to get it done today and tomorrow, because hopefully everything will stay open tomorrow," said Samuelson. "And if it does shut down it won’t shut down until tomorrow night.”

Vendors and tour guides around the mall also are worried.  Private tour guide Ken Rogoff brought a group of children from Buffalo, New York.  He says the coming weeks traditionally are some of the busiest for the tourist industry each year.

“Well that is very bad," said Rogoff. "We will have to do things that are not government institution.  But they came here to see the nation’s capital because it is their parents’ taxes that are paying for this.  I mean it is so wonderful to have the Smithsonian Institution and have it free.  You know if you go to Italy or France or Spain to the major museums they are very expensive.”

Street musician Jentry McCombs has been playing for tourists on the mall for 30 years. He says the tips are usually good, but he worries about what will happen if there is a government shutdown.

“I will have to have some more private shows, a lot more private shows because right now in the summer most of my income comes from the tourists," said McCombs. “When the United States government shuts down, where is there to go.  Oh, I go to the food bank.”

If there is a government shutdown, many tourists say they will visit some of the private museums around Washington, and seek out other sights.

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