By Horus Alas

The National Cherry Blossom Festival, a weeks-long cultural extravaganza which heralds the arrival of springtime in Washington, ended last weekend. After a winter season marked by federal furloughs, organizers say the festival generated between $100 to $160 million in economic activity for the District.

Festival spokeswoman Nora Strumpf estimated economic windfall for the city during the festival in the triple digit millions, specifying that it applies to previous years, as 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 the district’s tourism agency, Destination DC, wrote via email that although records aren’t kept specifically on National Cherry Blossom Festival attendance, “in 2017, tourism generated a record 22.8 million visitors to Washington, DC. Those visitors spent a record $7.5 billion, generating $814 million in local taxes for DC.”

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.

“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 — defined as “2,500 or more room nights during their peak night in the city ”– which 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 to festival events and activities.

“Cherry blossoms are the biggest thing going on right now,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Hotel Association of Washington D.C. said figures on the economic stimulus of the Cherry Blossom Festival for city hotels “are not something that we keep.”

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 distinguished 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.” Since then, the festival has focused on staple D.C. events including the Kite Festival and Petalpalooza.

Despite a lack of hard numbers, Mayhew estimates annual festival attendance at about 1.5 million visitors per year. Of those, she said some 55 percent are regional residents of the greater D.C., Maryland and Virginia metropolitan area.

Danielle Davis, a spokeswoman for Destination DC, said holistic data on the festival’s business impact does not currently exist. “Someone would have to do an economic impact study on the festival as a whole,” she said.

City agencies would have to keep track of visitors coming into the district from elsewhere, and hotels would have to track the number of guests booking rooms specifically for cherry blossom festival-related activities, according to Davis.

“It’s just too hard for us to estimate and plug into our calculator without having that data,” she said.

Still, the festival’s activity should be taken as a net positive for the district’s economy. According to the District of Columbia’s Economic and Revenue Trends for March 2019, general sales tax generated $1.5 billion in city revenue during February of fiscal year 2019, reflecting a 3.9 percent increase from the previous year.

Projections on general sales tax revenue for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 show increases of 7.3 and 4.2 percent, respectively.

Despite the parade marking the end of the festival season last weekend, Cherry Blossom Festival-themed events will continue in the district through the end of April.

The Anacostia River Festival at the 11th Street Bridge Park will be held April 20, and Japanese composer Ichiro Nodaira will perform in a festival finale concert at the Kennedy Center April 25.

Featured Photo Credit: Spectators and marchers gather near parade balloons on the National Mall Saturday in Washington before the start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. (Horus Alas)

Horus Alas can be reached at heliocentricnonchalance@gmail.com.

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