The Effect of Government Shutdown on D.C.’s Most Popular Tour Guides

The first government shutdown in almost 17 years has had a noticeable economical impact on Washington D.C.’s second largest industry, tourism. Destination DC, tourism bureau, said they won’t know how much money or the amount of tourists that have been lost since the shutdown until summer 2014. According to Destination D.C., a record 18.9 million tourists visited the District of Columbia in 2012, up 5.5 percent from the previous year. A substantial increase was expected for 2013, but that could drastically change. As reported by Standard and Poor’s, the shutdown has cost the United States more than $24 billion, including money lost in travel spending.

Some of DC’s most popular tourist companies that serve the National Mall and Capitol Hill areas suffered greatly due to the government shutdown. Additionally, many companies were forced to minimize their routes as a result of the closed monuments.

Destination DC is the city’s official travel website. Media relations manager of Destination DC, Kate Gibbs, said the city’s tourism industry tried to lead tourists to non governmental attractions during the shutdown. “Certainly people are disappointed but we want to remind them that there are still other things to do. We encourage them to visit other sites that have not been shut down through our Shutdown Concierge Hotline entitled #DCisOpen,” Gibbs said. Dc is Open is a campaign strategy that allows Destination DC to help tourists personally rebuild their itineraries. “We are hoping consumer confidence with our national’s capital hasn’t been rocked,” Gibbs said.

Big Bus Tours, one of the city’s leading tour guide companies, normally allows customers to explore the city at their own pace. The company is a fan favorite because it enables riders to hop on and off the bus whenever they please,  all while enjoying live informative commentary about landmarks such as the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and National History Museum.  Since the shutdown, Big Bus was not able to go around the Tidal Basin where most of these landmarks are located which greatly affected the accumulation of tours. Maria Vivae, 22, has been working as a receptionist at Big Bus for almost two years and said she has never saw such a dramatic decrease in sales. “Management is not happy. We’re losing money every day,” she said.  As well as seeing the monuments, visiting the museums is one of the most popular aspects of Big Bus Tours.”Most of our customers come from across the country and are very unhappy that they’ve traveled all this way to be denied access to their countries most historic memorials,” Vivae says.

Grayline, one of Washington, D.C.’s premiere sightseeing tours, also endured setbacks due to the limitation of access to the memorials. Not only did Grayline completely stop providing tours around the National Mall and Capitol Hill, but also the amount of tours they administered a day dropped from at least five a day to only one or two. Management even  tried offering a new tour route around the National Cathedral but no one signed up.

An employee who has worked for Grayline for a few years, said lately all she does is assist customers with refunds. “Once customers realized they no longer can enter any of the monuments or museums they quickly started calling about getting their money refunded from tours they already purchased in advance. Customers have even gone on to say they should have never voted for Obama,” she said.

While the tour bus companies were struggling to stay afloat amidst the shutdown , Bike and Roll tours was doing better than normal. Tour guide, Valentine, has been with Bike and Roll for almost 4 years and exclaimed how much he loves his job. “Being able to show the people of this country our nation’s history makes me feel I was put on this planet for this exact reason.” Valentine said the amount of people who register for bicycle tours doubled in the past two weeks. “Since the government shut down a lot of people were out of work allotting them more free time to sightsee and take leisurely time to themselves,” Valentine said. Tourists who ride bikes have a better chance at getting closer to the monuments and memorials than those who decide to ride the bus. Although some routes were blocked off for tour buses, bikes were still able to take those routes that lead them directly in front of the monuments.

DC Ducks, a vehicle that allows tourists to view the city on land and water all in one vehicle, also terminated their entire tour around the Tidal Basin. In order to generate more sales, the company tried decreasing their prices and offering one free tour for every tour a customer purchased, but the amount of ridership was still too low. Eboni, 26, has worked with DC Ducks for three years. Eboni said she fears that the 16 day government shutdown will have a lasting effect on tour companies in the future. “Customers spend money to get as much access to these iconic monuments as possible. Once the nation’s government took that away from them, they wanted to spend their money elsewhere and unfortunately we are the ones left to suffer from the government’s actions.”