(Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama brought a record boost for Washington-area hotels when he took the oath of office in January 2009, riding a wave of optimism as the first black president. The inauguration of Donald Trump stands to be unprecedented for the hospitality industry in its own way.
Hotels this week are for the most part full, especially at the higher end, based on calls to more than a dozen properties. Despite a surge of cancellations after Trump’s surprise victory, bookings for the Jan. 20 swearing-in celebrations are on par with Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, according to Destination DC, the capital’s tourism and visitor bureau. Yet it may be opposition to the president-elect that’s helping to prop up lodging demand.
“The positive for our hotels and our community is the fact the Women’s March is taking place as well,” said Elliott Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of Destination DC.
With the Jan. 21 demonstration expected to draw more than 200,000 marchers, Washington hotels will be swarming with people both celebrating and castigating Trump. An event that’s typically a windfall for the city’s lodging industry is being defined as much by who isn’t coming as who is, with a long list of entertainers declining to perform and luminaries boycotting ceremonies even if they’re already in the capital.
Almost 70 Democratic members of Congress said they won’t attend the festivities, according to the Washington Post. They include civil-rights leader Representative John Lewis, who on Saturday said he wouldn’t attend because he doesn’t consider Trump a “legitimate president,” provoking insults from Trump on Twitter.
Obama’s first inauguration set records for room rates and occupancy in the nation’s capital, with 98.5 percent of downtown hotel rooms sold the night before, according to STR, a data provider for the lodging industry. More than a million people made their way to the National Mall beginning in the early hours of inauguration morning to witness his swearing-in ceremony.
David Bernand, general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, watched the crowds start to gather shortly after 3 a.m., having slept on a massage table in the spa of the red-brick local icon because all the rooms were booked. The hotel is full this time around, but only after relaxing its minimum-stay policy to four nights from five.
Still, rates for the Four Seasons this week are at a record, ranging from $1,925 to $20,000. For Saturday night, it was 85 percent booked as of today.
Some other hotels still have availability. The Watergate Hotel had one suite available for Thursday, Friday and Saturday for $3,500 a night as of today. Rooms are still listed on Orbitz.com for Thursday-through-Sunday stays at hotels including the Washington Plaza, the Churchill Hotel and the Omni Shoreham, with averages of $372 to $552 a night.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder and executive director of MomsRising.org, and one of the speakers at the Women’s March, said finding a hotel was “surprisingly easy” compared with her experience for Obama’s inauguration in 2013.
“I went onto Expedia expecting to see a wall of no-vacancies and instead found a hotel room within walking distance of the start of the march, which caused me to almost fall off my chair,” she said. “Having attended the inauguration four years ago, we couldn’t get a hotel room even anywhere near, nor could we get two nights in a row.”
Comprehensive data for hotel rates and occupancies this week aren’t yet available. During inauguration week in 2009, Washington hotels had an average nightly rate of $466 and occupancy of 64.8 percent, according to STR, compared with rates of $185 on average and occupancy of 57 percent in the years immediately before and after. For Obama’s 2013 celebration, the average rate dropped to $287 and occupancy to 62.9 percent.
The recently opened Trump International Hotel, located between the White House and the U.S. Capitol, is sold out for this week, according to its website. The 263-room property has symbolized the conflicts of interest that have dogged the incoming president since the election and that will likely intensify once he takes office.
The hotel had offered a $500,000 inauguration package that included round-trip, first-class airfare, custom Brioni suits and a private dinner. Patricia Tang, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, declined to say if it was booked.
The property has been restricted to the media for the week for security reasons and the privacy of guests, Tang said.
Hotels in the district usually see a spike in bookings for the inauguration immediately after the election. Before Nov. 8, reservations were skewed toward the expected Hillary Clinton victory that polls had predicted.
“We saw almost as many cancellations following the election results as we had in total bookings,” Amanda Graham, a spokeswoman for online travel agent Expedia Inc., said in an e-mailed statement. There was only a “modest” 20 percent cancellation rate following President Obama’s re-election in 2013, she said.
It’s unclear what share of the hotel demand is tied to the inauguration or to the extra influx from the Women’s March and other protests. About three times more permits have been issued for tour buses to park on the day of the march than for the inauguration itself, Washington news channel NBC4 reported last week.
Restaurants and bars in Washington are preparing for a surge of visitors. More than a hundred local businesses have banded together for the first time to donate a percentage of proceeds from inauguration weekend to various local nonprofits. These include causes that Trump has pledged to defund, such as Planned Parenthood. Other recipients include Mary’s Center, which provides health care and educational and social services to low-income residents.
The three-week-old movement, All in Service DC, isn’t a protest against Trump, said organizer Sarah Massey, who runs a public-relations firm. “This is a demonstration of love and commitment to D.C.’s diverse community,” she said in a phone interview.
Washington’s hotel market has been growing as the city attracts more international visitors, adding about 4,000 rooms since Obama’s second inauguration, so hotel occupancies and rates for the two presidents aren’t strictly comparable. Alternative lodging sources such as Airbnb that were just getting started when Obama came to office are also absorbing some of the demand.
“We’re not the same city we were eight years ago,” Massey said. “Washington is booming.”
The restaurants, distilleries and breweries that are taking part in All in Service DC are fully booked or expecting standing-room only crowds this weekend, said Massey. One thing Trump demonstrated during his campaign was his ability to draw huge crowds, she said.
“This entire political season has been surprising,” Massey said.