Let’s just get this out of the way: The 2013 Inauguration Day event in Washington, D.C., will not be of the same magnitude as it was in 2009, when Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States. That day shattered all attendance records and turned the nation’s capital into a zoo. This year's inauguration will not. But that’s to be expected, and this coming weekend will still be the capital city’s busiest in four years.
Officials project attendance to be less than half the 1.8 million people who packed into the National Mall for Barack Obama’s historic day four years ago, but it could still easily go down in history as the most-attended inaugural event for a second-term president.
Kate Gibbs of Destination DC estimated that the economic impact of people staying in hotels in the D.C. metropolitan area during the 2009 event was $94 million, and though some of 2009’s enthusiasm may have waned, Gibbs said the nation’s capital is optimistic that it will see “exceptionally high occupancy rates” at hotels over inauguration weekend and come close to selling most of the 29,000 hotel rooms downtown.
“It’s so exceptional for D.C. to get to hold an inauguration every four years,” she enthused. “It’s like getting a Super Bowl.”
The economic benefits go beyond the hotels. The Newseum on Pennsylvania Ave., for instance, was able to sell 35,000 $100 tickets for Monday thanks to its big windows and location along the parade route. This is a big bump in a traditionally slow January and is emblematic of the lift the inauguration gives the city.
Gibbs, who said she was “waist deep in all things inauguration,” noted that the festivities fall on Martin Luther King Weekend this year, which has a special resonance in D.C. Sites like the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, which was not open four years ago, are expected to be particularly busy.
For anyone planning a trip to the nation’s capital to usher in four more years with Barack Obama and his team, here’s a look at what you can expect.
Where To Stay
If you were searching for a hotel room in Washington, D.C., around this time four years ago, you would have been completely out of luck. Hotel occupancy on inauguration eve hovered at around 98 percent, with the average guest paying upward of $600 a night, according to hotel data-tracking company STR Global.
Though the party will be a tad subdued in 2013 by comparison, hotels in the nation’s capital have actually seen a makeover to the tune of $250 million since 2009. More than a dozen properties are expected to be refreshed in time for the festivities, including the Embassy Suites, the Fairmont Washington, D.C., the Capital Hilton and The Madison.
Gibbs said there are still plenty of hotel rooms available at these and other properties between Friday and Tuesday, “and the room rates reflect that the opportunity is still there.”
Destination DC has compiled a helpful list of hotels and inns both in the city and metropolitan area that still have available rooms. Rates vary dramatically from around $100 to $900, and some have minimum-night-stay requirements.
So-called “fantasy hotel packages” abound for those with deep pockets like the $201,300 “West Wing” experience at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown and the $47,000 package at The Madison Hotel. Among their more bizarre perks are the Ritz-Carlton’s “scent butler,” which can spray hotel guests with the preferred scents of past presidents and first ladies, and The Madison’s “social media butler,” which can post on all of your accounts so you don’t have to.
As in 2009, many Washingtonians are eager to get out of the way and make a buck or two in the process by renting out their homes on popular sites like HomeAway and Airbnb.
HomeAway said about 62 percent of its Washington, D.C., properties are booked for the upcoming weekend, with the average price of a two-bedroom home still available at about $600 per night. Similar rentals on Airbnb, meanwhile, begin around $1,000 per night.
Inauguration Weekend Events
The Sister Cities International Inaugural Gala in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Hall of Flags on Thursday kicks off the festive weekend by honoring the important role of everyday citizen diplomats in the nation’s efforts to promote peace and prosperity around the world. Tickets start at $125.
The Inaugural Balls are some of Washington’s biggest parties and take place throughout the week leading up to the main event. Most are hosted by state societies, though smaller celebrations take place at local restaurants, hotels and attractions.
The National Day of Service on Saturday, which honors the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a day where Americans are encouraged to participate in acts of service in communities across the 50 states. A special event will take place on the National Mall.
The Presidential Inaugural Fashion Show, part of DC Fashion Week, will take place at the Crystal City Doubletree Hotel at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday and showcase some of the city’s best fashion designers. General admission begins at $40, though most tickets appear to be sold out.
The Let Freedom Ring Concert at the Kennedy Center honors Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and will feature the Motown legend Smokey Robinson. Free tickets will be distributed at the Hall of Nations at 4 p.m. Sunday and the concert will begin at 6 p.m. Expect a star-studded crowd.
The Swearing-In Ceremony where the President-elect and Vice President-elect take the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capital will take place just before noon on Monday. The formal ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. and tickets are distributed in advance by U.S. senators and representatives. Those without tickets can watch the ceremony from 20 jumbotrons posted along the National Mall.
The Pennsylvania Avenue Parade follows the swearing-in ceremony and includes the First and Second Family as well as various marching bands, military units and entertainment acts. There are limited tickets for the bleacher seats, but there will be plenty of space on the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the festivities.
The National Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral is a ceremony that has taken place the day after the inauguration since 1933, when it was introduced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Though attendance is by invitation only, the service will be streamed live on the National Cathedral’s website.
Many of the city’s museums and attractions will have special operating hours during the inaugural festivities. Destination DC has a comprehensive list of what will be open and when. For a look at street closures in and around the city, heed the advice of the Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock.
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...