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Tourism bureau: DC hosted record 17.4 million US visitors in 2013, despite government shutdown

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WASHINGTON - Even though museums and memorials were shuttered last fall by a government shutdown, 2013 was another record-breaking year for attractions in the nation's capital with an increase in domestic visitors and spending, tourism officials said Tuesday.

Statistics released by the tourism bureau Destination D.C. show Washington had more than 17.4 million U.S. visitors in 2013. That's up 3.1 per cent from the 16.8 million domestic visitors in 2012.

Visitors spent $6.7 billion last year in Washington, an increase of nearly 8 per cent over 2012, according to the study. Spending was up on retail goods, food, beverages and entertainment.

While 2013 was the year of a 16-day government shutdown in October that shuttered Smithsonian museums and monuments, it was also a presidential inauguration year and a strong year for large citywide conventions, said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination D.C.

"We had a lot of variables that really worked in our favour," he said.

During the shutdown, tourism officials worked to advertise the many privately funded museums and attractions that remained open. Many visitors found other things to do, and business meetings and conventions went on as planned, officials said.

In announcing the 2013 data, Mayor Vincent Gray said the city's tourism sector supported nearly 76,000 jobs last year. The hospitality industry is the second largest employer after the federal government.

Looking ahead to 2014, Ferguson said the numbers are "pacing relatively well, despite the first three months of the year" when winter weather forced the city and federal government to shut down several times.

This year will bring 17 citywide conventions and high-profile events to Washington, including the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. The recent opening of the city's largest hotel, a new Marriott Marquis next to the city's convention centre, already is boosting future bookings, Ferguson said.

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Follow Brett Zongker at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat

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