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4 takeaways from our first Return of Travel webinar featuring the president of Destination DC

March 31, 2021
8 min read
Aerial Photo Of The Washington Memorial and Capitol
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As the first quarter of 2021 comes to a close, there's a slew of encouraging trends related to the coronavirus pandemic. Vaccination continues to expand across the country, and some countries are opening their borders to those who are fully immunized against the virus — including Iceland. Last week even found TPG's Gene Sloan on one of the first cruises to hit U.S. waters in over a year.

Here at TPG, we're incredibly excited about what's to come as travel continues to bounce back — which has led us to rebrand our ongoing webinar series to The Return of Travel with Brian Kelly. This new approach will take a first-hand look at what's to come for travelers, featuring a slew of exciting guests at the forefront of the travel industry's comeback.

And yesterday, we kicked things off with a bang.

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Joining Brian was Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of Destination D.C. and the immediate past chairperson of the board of directors for the U.S. Travel Association. The duo touched on a range of topics, from the rebound of travel to exciting developments in his home city of Washington, D.C. to his important work in facilitating diversity and inclusion in the hospitality industry.

In case you missed it, here are the X important takeaways from our conversation — though you can watch the entire recording at the bottom of this post.

Vaccines are key to rejuvenating travel

One of the most popular topics related to travel over the last several weeks is vaccine administration. From digital vaccine passports to what to do with your paper vaccine cards, we've seen a ton of interest in what these shots actually mean for taking to the road again. And while the CDC hasn't yet given the green light for vaccinated travelers to travel again, Elliott sees this as a key factor.

"We are all basing the industry recovering and us getting back on track with the fact that people need to get vaccinated," he said, highlighting ongoing conversations he's having with colleagues around the world. While there's naturally a focus on domestic vaccination rates and a hopeful recovery for more domestic travel, foreign travelers are critical for a full rebound.

"From an economic perspective," Elliott highlighted, "the international visitor spends more and stays longer, and we want them back."

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Of course, there are still a number of unknowns out there — including the proliferation of variants and how vaccination will ultimately extend down to children and across the world. Nevertheless, the news over the last few weeks has been positive, and Elliott clearly shares that optimism for what it will mean for Washington's tourism industry.

Read more: Your most prized travel accessory is about to become your vaccine passport

Tourism is up but still has a ways to go

Cherry blossom season is in full swing, but DC still has a way to go to return to pre-pandemic tourism levels. (Photo by: Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

As warmer weather spreads across the country and COVID-related restrictions continue to ease, we've already seen a notable uptick in travel — with TSA numbers steadily climbing and airlines reporting big jumps in demand. And this is starting to bear out in DC, especially with the onset of cherry blossom season.

"There has been an uptick in visitation and occupancy in hotels," Elliott said, "But that (by no means) suggests that we are where we should be in terms of average daily room rate, occupancy and activity in Washington." With the Smithsonian museums still closed — and no definitive timeline for reopening — that has created "the perception that DC is closed" he added.

However, he did point to a number of things to do that remain open in the city — including the array of outdoor monuments and memorials. In fact, during the Q&A section, he specifically referenced the Eisenhower Memorial that opened right before the pandemic took hold, and he also pointed out spots like the Potomac fish market, the Wharf and the upcoming Washington Nationals baseball season — which kicks off this week (with limited capacity, of course).

He also pointed out that this situation is constantly changing, and he expects more updates in the weeks to come. If you're looking at a summer visit in June or July, be sure to bookmark for up-to-date information ahead of your trip.

Read more: A secret cherry blossom spot in DC that’s less touristy

DC still has a quarantine requirement, but vaccinated travelers are exempt

We had several viewers ask specifically about what the District of Columbia is requiring related to testing and quarantine — and whether vaccines play any role in this. And fortunately, if you've received a full regimen of shots (and waited the requisite two weeks for full protection to kick in), you're good to go.

"If you've been vaccinated [within 90 days of your visit], you don't need to quarantine," according to Elliott. However, he added that non-vaccinated travelers should take a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of traveling — and then if you're staying for longer than three days, limit your activities until you can take a second test that comes back negative.

This most recent guidance from the district was put into effect March 3, 2021, and it's likely to continue to change — so again, Elliott suggested that interested visitors bookmark the COVID-19 updates page on for the most up-to-date information.

Read more: Opening America: State-by-state guide to coronavirus reopening

Diversity and inclusion in tourism is another key initiative

If you're not aware, Elliot was recently named board chair of Tourism Diversity Matters, an organization focused on creating diversity, equity and inclusion opportunities across all levels of the workforce. As the U.S. continues its nationwide conversation on racism, Elliott has been instrumental in advancing conversations along these lines throughout the hospitality industry — a mission that TPG is pursuing as well.

Brian took the opportunity to ask Elliott about this work, and he was quite forthcoming in his response.

"There are very few opportunities for people from a diverse background at the top of the pyramid within [the travel] industry," he said, pointing out there there are around 700 tourism organizations like his across the US — and just 10 of them are run by people that look like him.

"Part of being the chair of the US Travel Association was the fact that I got to lend my voice to this conversation about our industry and how we need to do better, but equally as much how we need to talk about the things that that we're hearing."

I asked what can we do as avid travelers to support these efforts as part of the Q&A.

"Education," he responded. "There's nothing more important than reading to learn a lot more about ... the community, the country that we live in — and all love at the end of the day."

"Just remain open-minded, learn as much as you can about the diversity of [your] community — not what you've heard, but do it on your own and you'll appreciate these things a lot more."

Ever the champion of Washington, DC, Elliott pointed out the vast number of ways to engage in this education in the city — so again, check out for up-to-date information on how to best maximize your visit along these lines.

Full recording

Want to hear more? Check out the full recording below — and use the run of show to navigate to specific spots.

Run of show

  • 1:53 — Introduction from Brian Kelly
  • 7:34 — Vaccine discussion
  • 15:34 — Tourism in DC
  • 19:56 — Elliott's role at Destination DC
  • 23:00 — Conventions and conferences
  • 28:43 — Hidden gems in the city
  • 39:16 — Diversity in travel
  • 47:55 — Q&A

"The Return of Travel with Brian Kelly" is a series of live events to help consumers prepare for the comeback of travel as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Join Brian as he interviews top experts and company executives on a range of topics, including the anticipated boom in leisure travel, what travel looks like for various groups, the return to cruising, destination reopening and much more.

For recaps and recordings of this series' predecessor — "The Future of Travel with Brian Kelly" — please visit this page.

Featured image by Getty Images
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