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When could large events return? ReOpen DC committee member discusses future

After seeing big financial losses from cancelled events in the district, the CEO of Events DC says the spread of coronavirus could impact fall gatherings.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Instead of welcoming crowds and hosting events during a normally busy spring season, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is instead being used as a temporary alternative care facility as the spread of coronavirus continues to lead to large gatherings being canceled across the DMV.

Other venues owned by Events DC, including Nationals Park and the Entertainment and Sports Arena, also remain shut down as the future of sporting events and conventions in the area faces an uncertain road ahead.

This week, the impact to tourism from the pandemic became even clearer after district leaders released statistics showing the losses D.C. has endured over the last several weeks.

According to the report, the spread of coronavirus has led to a $1.7 billion loss in travel spending after the city welcomed almost 23 million domestic visitors last year.

RELATED: Not so fast: Montgomery County may not reopen when Maryland does

The battered global tourism industry is facing unprecedented uncertainty in the wake of the new coronavirus. Six months ago, the global tourism industry was celebrating a record year for travel. Now, it's decimated and facing a recovery that could take years. Tourism Economics, a data and consulting firm, predicts global travel demand won't resume its normal pace until 2023.

With the convention center seeing around 40 events canceled until September, CEO Greg O'Dell said that the changes to the schedule have so far led to a $163 million impact.

"We’ve seen cancellations throughout the summer," he said. "I’m sure we’ll see more and those are just the large-scale events." 

From medical and consumer shows to baseball games and other events, the impact of the cancellations stretches well beyond the venues.

No attendees means far fewer customers for restaurants and people staying at nearby hotels.

According to a report from late April from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the pandemic has resulted in around 70% of hotel staff being laid off around the country and around 5-10% occupancy rates at D.C. hotels.

RELATED: DC coronavirus updates: More than 6,000 cases, reopening won't be addressed until after May 15

With O'Dell now a part of the ReOpen DC coronavirus committee, he knew the impact of the pandemic stretched even further. 

"It can be floral shops, it can be all types of industries that are providing means or supplies, or the convention or hospitality industry," he said.

As the tourism and hospitality industries now try and navigate forward, O'Dell said that organizers will need to find new ways to hold their events and still be safe.

"How can we figure out a platform for having a hybrid event that has some digital experience and may have some attendees in our spaces," he said. "Maybe we don’t necessarily bring people in mass. Maybe we create hubs of innovation where we do have people coming through our building and using the building in a different way." 

For now, O'Dell said conversations would continue to be held over whether or not to hold fall events in the district.

When asked, O'Dell did not offer a timetable when large gatherings could once again return in the area.

"Science will lead the way," he said. "I think first and foremost, we must be safe. I think it will be some time before we see mass gatherings." 

RELATED: Some Northern Virginia counties do not feel comfortable reopening May 15

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