What a difference a week makes. Following a violent insurrection at the Capitol last Wednesday and ongoing security threats to the nation’s capital, the Washington, D.C. metro area has had to make significant changes to its presidential inauguration plans on January 20, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced today. “We have asked Americans not to come to the Washington, D.C. event and to instead participate virtually. We know that is the right choice and the best way to keep everyone safe,” Bowser said.
This in itself isn’t the headline—the Presidential Inaugural Committee had already encouraged all Americans to “refrain from traveling to Washington, D.C. and instead join from home in new and innovative ways.” Rather, a pre-emergency declaration was put in place for the District of Columbia on Monday, more than a week in advance of the swearing in of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President–elect Kamala Harris, that has prompted broader closures surrounding the White House, the Mall, and the Capitol building where an outdoor ceremony is still planned. Residents have been asked to avoid the Central Business District; the “pause” on indoor dining and museums has been extended through January 22 at 5 a.m.; and most striking of all, the entire National Mall is closed for Inauguration Day.
Hotels in the vicinity may be asked to shut or face restrictions in the coming days, though nothing has been decided, Bowser said. “The hotels we are working with—hotels are very concerned,” said Bowser. “Those that are in the perimeter will have some access concerns. There are some safety concerns for their personnel. . . . We haven’t made any determinations yet but we’re trying to give a lot of advice.
“Prior to [January 6] a few hotels decided to close for the safety of the personnel and security of their operations,” she added. “I think there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Marriott International said Wednesday that its hotels in the Washington, D.C. area will remain open leading up to and through the inauguration. “We have many official participants of the inauguration staying with us and plan on upholding those reservations,” the company said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We, of course, have the safety of our guests and associates top of mind given the recent events. We are monitoring the situation very closely and have operational and security plans in place.”
Airbnb also announced Wednesday, “in response to various local, state, and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C.,” that it “will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the Inauguration week.
“Additionally, we will prevent any new reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from being booked during that time by blocking such reservations,” the company added in a statement. “Guests whose reservations are canceled will be refunded in full. We also will reimburse hosts, at Airbnb’s expense, the money they would have earned from these canceled reservations. HotelTonight reservations also will be canceled.”
The mayor has asked the Department of the Interior to cancel any and all public gathering permits—no parades, no block parties—though noted the conversation is ongoing and stopped short at including protests. “We have no ability to say to someone you can’t have a protest. We can’t stop it,” she said.
This is all in stark contrast to what a presidential inauguration celebration in D.C. typically looks like—when people from all over the country mingle on the lawn of the Mall, literally do-si-doing with joy—and what the near-weeklong celebration can mean to local tourism, bringing in millions in revenue that the District of Columbia can plan around. Destination D.C, the city’s tourism arm, told AFAR that “while they don’t expect visitation to be as high as typical inaugurals,” they will continue to follow Mayor Bowser’s lead in the steps she’s taken to keep Washington, D.C. safe.
In yet another pivot during a pandemic period, “we’ve emphasized sharing the latest travel status for the city, important public health updates, and information on the reimagined and mostly virtual celebrations,” Elliott L. Ferguson, II, the President and CEO of Destination DC., told AFAR. As for how to gauge success in such an extraordinary time?
“A ‘win,’ as always, is the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power, celebrating our new administration and this year especially highlighting the historic swearing in of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris,” said Ferguson. “Our goal is to share information [at washington.org/inauguration] and encourage future visitors to acquaint themselves with the presidential side of the city for when the time is right to travel again.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.