Despite inauguration unknowns amid COVID-19, hotels are selling out in Washington, DC

Despite inauguration unknowns amid COVID-19, hotels are selling out in Washington, DC

President-elect Joe Biden's Inauguration Day is set for Jan. 20, 2021, and while many things are still up in the air in terms of how inaugural festivities will come together in the age of COVID-19, it appears one thing is for certain: people have already booked up hotel stays.

The inauguration, which is planned by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, typically takes place on the west front of the U.S. Capitol and includes multiple traditions, such as the procession to the Capitol, the swearing-in ceremony (watched by many in person and at home) and the inaugural address. Though a countdown is shown on the committee's website for the 59th ceremony, no detailed plan has been released.
According to Washington, D.C., tourism group Destination DC’s President & CEO, Elliott L. Ferguson II a large turnout is expected based on years past, but just how big will depend on coronavirus pandemic developments.

“Historically, inauguration is a large economic engine for the city of Washington, D.C. When a new president takes office, inauguration numbers tend to be larger than second-term inaugurals. We are currently seeing high interest in visitation to Washington, D.C., for the 2021 inauguration," he said. "However, it heavily depends on what people are able to do in the city based on COVID-19’s impact this winter."

As of Tuesday at noon ET, Travelocity showed dozens of listings that were no longer available for a Jan. 19 to 21 stay. Fewer than 10 downtown D.C. options were available, ranging from $899-$1,500 per night. A Google travel search for hotels for the same dates showed only two "budget" options, which were located well outside the city. Other results ranged around $800 to over $2,000 per night, a drastic contrast compared to results for the week prior, which show more available options, some starting as low as $28 per night. On Travelocity the week prior, there were more than 60 accommodation options available that didn't exceed $80 per night.

Interestingly, the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., shows no availability from Jan. 16 to 21. USA TODAY has reached out to the hotel for comment.

For President Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017, the hotel occupancy rate in the capital was 95.2% for the night before Inauguration Day through the night of, based on data from hotel company STR provided by Destination DC. The occupancy rate was also affected by the Women's March, which took place around the same time.

Controversy arose over the size of Trump's inaugural crowd after the president's former Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed it was "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration." Side-by-side photos of the 2017 and 2009 inauguration crowds on the National Mall showed a noticeable difference, however, with 2009’s crowds filling up more of the space, from the perspective of the Washington Monument looking toward the Capitol.

The occupancy rate for President Barack Obama's first and second inaugurations was 97.2% in 2009 and 78.3% in 2013, according to Destination DC's data from STR. According to Destination DC, first-term inaugurations are typically larger than second term.

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