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Where have all the tour buses gone? Coronavirus cuts DC tourism, nationwide downturn expected

The research company Tourism Economics now projects a 28 percent drop in Chinese domestic arrivals this year, a forecast based on economic data.

WASHINGTON — There’s a palpable feeling of fewer tour buses circling the monuments, museums and major attractions across the nation’s capital, with the toll of few tourists from China potentially leading to prolonged economic pain.

The roots of the malaise are found in the growing coronavirus outbreak, a global health emergency that has spurred new travel restrictions from Washington to Wuhan.

Quarantines and temporary travel bans announced by federal health officials are currently open-ended, as all foreign nationals who have recently been to China are now banned from entering the United States.

The research company Tourism Economics now projects a 28% drop in Chinese domestic arrivals this year, a forecast based on economic data collected during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Chinese tourists comprise the largest group of overseas visitors to Washington, with 226,000 guests recorded in 2018.


According to the travel forecast, Tourism Economics predicts loss of 1.6 million Chinese visitors to the United States through 2024, compared to the company’s forecast made at the end of 2019.

"We expect the most significant declines will be experienced in 2020 with recovery beginning in the latter part of this year," the report said. "While growth will accelerate in 2021, the entire recovery will span four years, like the SARS experience." 

Analysts in the report noted because of a massive recent increase in Chinese travel booking visits to the U.S., the impact to tourism dollars will be much larger than what was experienced during the SARS crisis.

In total, a $10.3 billion loss in Chinese visitor spending across the U.S. is expected as a result of the Wuhan coronavirus. More than half of these losses will be experienced in 2020.

More specific figures for the virus’s impact on D.C. are not yet available, district officials and tourism analysts said.

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