Vacancy: Hotel Sales for Obama Inauguration Weak Compared to 2009

Some pricey packages for the Inauguration are going unsold, reflecting a dip in public enthusiasm.

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This Jan. 20, 2009 file photo shows the crowd on the National Mall looking from the Capitol toward the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial listening to the inaugural address of President Barack Obama.
This Jan. 20, 2009 file photo shows the crowd on the National Mall looking from the Capitol toward the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial listening to the inaugural address of President Barack Obama.

With Inauguration Day approaching, Washington's marketing professionals and business opportunists are offering all they can for sale. But they aren't getting nearly the amount of buyers they did four years ago.

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Kate Gibbs, spokeswoman for Destination D.C., a nonprofit corporation that promotes D.C. travel and tourism, tells Whispers that the city's hospitality industry isn't seeing the same boost as it did in the weeks leading up to President Barack Obama's first inauguration. Unlike the flood of visitors to hotels in January 2009, she says, "There are definitely rooms still available." VIP packages, which sold well in 2009, also aren't selling so well.

Over the last 24 hours, the Marriott at Metro Center had a flash sale, offering lower room rates and no minimum night stay to try to offload some of their remaining rooms. Morrison House, a boutique hotel in nearby Alexandria, Va., is still featuring a $200,000 inaugural package that lets visitors buy the entire place for four nights, complete with 24-hour butler service, silk monogrammed pajamas, and a champagne sabering demonstration. According to Morrison House, no one has taken it up on its offer.

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Lara Hawketts, who helps Washingtonians rent their homes through her company, Pillow Cloud, says her clients charged three or four times what they normally would for a vacation rental in 2009, which sometimes meant thousands per night. This year, they're charging only double the normal weekend price.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority also expects a decline in travelers. Around 1.54 million people used the city's transit system (1.1 million by train) in 2009, its busiest day in history. This year, WMATA expects less than 800,000 people to use the rails.

The decrease in interest from a president's first inauguration to the second is not unique to Barack Obama, according to inauguration historian Jim Bendat. "It's not ever the same level of excitement or enthusiasm as when it's a change of power," he says.

[REWIND: JFK's 'Ask Not...' Inaugural Still Inspires 50 Years Later]

But the second inauguration of George W. Bush did see more interest than his first, at least according to levels of hotel occupancy in the city.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.