WASHINGTON – The National Cherry Blossom Festival, a weeks-long cultural extravaganza that heralds the arrival of springtime in Washington, generated between $100 million to $160 million in economic activity for the city, organizers estimate — following a winter season marred by federal worker furloughs.
Festival spokeswoman Nora Strumpf estimated the economic windfall for the city from the festival would be similar to previous years. Figures for this year’s celebration are still being processed.
City agencies did not have specific data on business activity in Washington during the festival, but agreed it was an important cultural and economic event.
Elliot Ferguson, president of tourism agency Destination DC, wrote via email that tourism in general is important to the economic health of the nation’s capital. In 2017, for instance, tourism generated a record 22.8 million visitors to Washington. Those visitors spent “a record $7.5 billion, generating $814 million in local taxes.”
He added that travelers supported $3.1 billion in wages for District workers in 2017.
This year, the Cherry Blossom Festival coincided with the NCAA Basketball Men’s Regional Championship at Capital One arena March 29 and 31 and the Washington Auto Show April 5 through 14. The festival ran from March 20 to April 13.
“Whenever there are multiple events going on at the same time, it creates more business for our hotels and community,” Ferguson wrote. In March, he noted the District had three citywide meetings that generated $69.8 million for Washington.
Hotels in particular are known to capitalize on the influx of visitors to Washington and offer cherry blossom-themed packages and activities.
Lindsay Reid, a marketing manager for the Capital Hilton, called the festival a “great time of year to visit D.C.” She said there were 66 different hotels participating in the festival. Hilton was designated the festival’s official hotel, and guests were treated to Japanese whiskey tastings, bento boxes with Japanese treats and a petal pass package that included access festival events and activities.
“Cherry blossoms are the biggest thing going on right now,” she said.
National Cherry Blossom Festival President Diana Mayhew underscored the festival’s importance, and said her organization works hard to make sure visitors know the festival isn’t just about the blooming cherry trees.
Mayhew cited music, art and food as prominent festival elements and said the festival was geared toward “celebrating spring in Washington, D.C.” and making the city a “springtime destination.”
The festival has been around 92 years, according to Mayhew, and commemorates Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki’s donation of some 3,000 cherry tree saplings to Washington in 1912.
The festival’s opening ceremony at Warner Theatre March 23 featured a musical adaptation of the popular manga series “Sailor Moon.” The festival also included staple events such as the Kite Festival and Petapalooza.
Mayhew estimated annual festival attendance at about 1.5 million visitors a year. Of those, she said some 55 percent are residents of the greater D.C., Maryland and Virginia metropolitan area.
Although the festival ended in mid-April, festival-themed events continued through the end of the month. Japanese composer Ichiro Nodaira performed in a Festival Finale Concert at the Kennedy Center April 25, and District Winery held an Annual Rosé Party at the Navy Yard April 28.