By BRETT ZONGKER
WASHINGTON — Washington saw an increase of about 1 million visitors last year, one of its largest in a decade, counting a record 18.9 million tourists at the nation’s capital in 2012, officials announced Tuesday.
Statistics released by the tourism bureau Destination D.C. show a 5.5 percent increase in total visitors compared with 2011. A study found that domestic visitation grew by 4.2 percent to reach 16.8 million U.S. visitors last year.
Growth in international visitors was a major factor driving increased visitation, said Elliott Ferguson, the president and CEO of Destination D.C. Officials estimate that Washington had 2.1 million international tourists in 2012. The number of visitors from China increased by about 92 percent, and Washington saw double-digit increases from other countries as well, Ferguson said.
Tourism officials said they expect strong growth in 2013 as well.
“The nation’s capital remains a bucket-list destination for families,” Ferguson said. “We are known for our free and almost free attractions, and increasingly for our exciting food scene, nightlife, shopping, theater, sporting events and dynamic neighborhoods.”
The food and entertainment sectors also help attract more major conventions and smaller meetings, he said. Destination D.C. expects the tourism growth to continue. Next year, the city will host 16 large city-wide conferences.
Ferguson said the growth in tourism translates into a stronger local economy and job market.
Figures show that visitor spending increased to an estimated $6.2 billion in 2012. Destination D.C. said more than half of the city’s sales tax revenue is generated by visitor spending.