PICTURE: While new research by West Virginia University economists has found that presidential inaugurations have grown in popularity in recent years as must-see tourist events, major security threats will keep visitors away to …
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Photo credit: West Virginia University

While new research by West Virginia University economists has shown that inaugurations of the President have grown in popularity in recent years as a must-see tourist event, major security threats will keep visitors to the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden at bay.

The study by Joshua Hall, chairman and professor of economics, and business graduate Clay Collins, published in Tourism Economics, examined the impact of the inaugurations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump on hotel occupancy in the Washington, DC area.

The daily occupancy rates around the inaugurations were four to six times higher than at the next largest event in the sample. The research team also concluded that inaugurations usually serve as tourist events lasting several days, with hotel occupancy showing positive indications and delays.

“We had the idea to look into this because the public debate was about the size of the Trump inauguration compared to the Obama debate,” Hall said. “Although we couldn’t answer this question given the data, we thought about how important inaugurations are as tourist events.”

The hotel data available is from 2010, so researchers could only focus on Obama’s second inauguration (2012) and Trump’s (2016). One of the complicating factors in an accurate comparison of the two is that the Trump opening also attracted large numbers of protesters to the region. The women’s march in Washington also took place the day after the Trump event.

However, economists found a relatively small difference in the extent of the overall impact on hotel occupancy. One difference is that Obama’s inauguration spiked ahead of the swearing in ceremony, while Trump’s inauguration spiked after inauguration day.

Both inaugurations led to a sharp increase in hotel occupancy, significantly more than any tourist, sport or cultural event.

Throughout his various studies, Hall has found that one-off, one-off events like concerts or music festivals tend to be more economically viable than sports competitions, which typically only attract local residents.

“Regular events like baseball games may attract some local people, but most are locals,” Hall said. “You need something that happens every few years – four years in this case – to get people to think about travel.

“I believe the interest in attending inaugurations is due to lower relative attendance costs over time, due to both improved roads and aircraft costs, as well as increasing real incomes. Getting from Morgantown to Washington DC, for example, has been far easier since it was completed Interstate 68. “

The economic impact of the hotel and tourism industry will be minimal this time around.

FBI and Washington DC officials warned of threats ahead of Inauguration Day on Wednesday January 20 following the recent deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol. The Presidential Inaugural Committee asked Americans to stay home and celebrate virtually. Personal participation is limited to the congress.

As National Guard units settled in the Capitol, Airbnb announced it would block and cancel reservations in Washington, DC during the inauguration.

“This year will definitely be different,” said Hall. “It won’t include the multi-day celebrations of past inaugurations.”


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