Instead of rolling out the red carpet for visitors, Washington is rolling it up as threats of armed protests darken an inauguration that was already set to be severely curtailed by the pandemic.
The Washington Monument is closed for two weeks. The National Mall is off limits. A suspension on museum visits and indoor dining has been extended. Airbnb has canceled all DC area inauguration week reservations. And the mayor of Washington and the governors of Virginia and Maryland have joined forces in discouraging people from traveling to attend the inauguration.
Tourism officials are echoing those calls.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and President-elect Biden’s Presidential Inaugural Committee “have made it clear that it’s for everyone’s benefit to stay home and celebrate inauguration virtually in light of the unprecedented attack on American democracy last week and ongoing threat to our country as outlined by the FBI,” said Elliott L. Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, in a statement.
Inaugural organizers have been discouraging travel to the event since December because of the raging pandemic, and last week’s riot inside the US Capitol and the potential for additional violence have cemented the guidance that spectators are safer at home.
Bowser, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland issued a joint advisory on Monday urging would-be attendees to stay home, citing the events at the Capitol and the pandemic.
“We are taking the extraordinary step of encouraging Americans not to come to Washington, D.C., and to instead participate virtually,” the statement says.
There wouldn’t be much to see for anyone trying to observe the swearing-in ceremonies in Washington on January 20. There will be no big screens, no toilets and no panels where people stand, an official familiar with discussions told CNN on Thursday.
The National Mall officially closed to the public on Friday and won’t reopen before January 21, according to the National Park Service.
Closures in DC
The National Park Service closed the Washington Monument to visitors January 11 through January 24, citing threats from the groups behind the Capitol riot to “disrupt the 59th presidential inauguration.”
The Park Service said it also “may institute temporary closures of public access to roadways, parking areas and restrooms within the National Mall and Memorial Parks if conditions warrant, to protect public safety and park resources.”
A Covid-related suspension on museum visits and indoor dining was extended by Bowser through January 22. This order was initially meant to expire on January 15.
Bowser told reporters on December 23 that she did not expect to extend that date, because the three-week period was meant to be an “intervention interval” to curb coronavirus cases over the holidays.
On Monday, Bowser told reporters that the public safety emergency was factoring into her decision.
A local push to limit lodging rentals
A campaign with the hashtag #DontRentDC has bubbled up on Twitter urging locals to forgo renting properties on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO to avoid housing people who might have violent intentions.
“There’s no way to guarantee that your guests are not coming to incite violence,” said newly elected DC councilmember Janeese Lewis George in a tweet on Monday. “The potential threats publicized by news outlets are very alarming. Please protect your neighbors and the District from more attacks. #DontRentDC”
Airbnb said Monday that it would try to ban Capitol rioters from inauguration stays as part of a Capitol Safety Plan, but by Wednesday the company announced that it would cancel and block all reservations in the DC area during inauguration week.
The company said that guests would receive full refunds and that Airbnb would reimburse hosts for the canceled stays.
The Hotel Association of Washington, DC didn’t respond to requests for comment about bookings for the upcoming inauguration, but presidential inaugurations typically bring a lot of business to the district.
According to data from hospitality analysis firm STR, hotel occupancy for President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 was at 96.3% and occupancy for former President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 was at 96.8%.
“Inauguration is typically a shot in the arm for the DC economy, when visitors come and stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and experience the city in addition to celebrating the incoming president,” said Destination DC’s Ferguson.
“Given the current pandemic and security threats, as well as indoor dining and museums and attractions closed, we don’t expect inauguration to have the economic impact it normally would generate.”