Tourism in Washington, D.C., was expected to be hurt by the $85 billion of federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The White House canceled tours, while national parks and museums announced reductions in service, but, the summer tourism season is underway and most visitors are unaffected by the cutbacks.
The number of visitors coming to the National Air and Space Museum has actually increased since the sequester took effect. The budget for the Smithsonian Institution museums that line the National Mall in Washington was reduced by $42 million, but spokesperson Linda St. Thomas says most tourist-related programs have not been affected.
“And so we had to take that out of maintenance and contracts. We reduced travel. We reduced a lot of staff activities. We had a hiring freeze,” she said. “So we did all that so that we would have less impact on tourists.”
Budget cuts forced the closure of only three exhibits in all 16 Smithsonian museums. Evening hours have been cut at the National Archives, where visitors can see the original Declaration of Independence. The most visible effect of sequestration has been the cancellation of White House tours. But on average, only three percent of the 18 million visitors to Washington every year go on a White House tour.
Marcus Warden, who is visiting from Britain with his family, did not know about the sequester cuts and thought that only foreigners were banned from the tours.
“But the White House tours, we would have liked to do that, but foreign nationals are not allowed to go round at the moment. So, I do not know why that is,” said Warden.
The intent behind the sequestration budget cuts was to impose a level of pain and discomfort that the public would not tolerate and therefore pressure the president and Congress to negotiate a long-term-debt reduction deal. But David Nathanson, who came from Virginia with his daughter to visit the museums, says that strategy is not working.
“I think it was a political tool for both parties, and I do not think it has had the impact that many people thought, and I do not think the impact has been far reaching and damaging, and for me it has been pretty transparent,” he said.
He and most of the tourists visiting Washington say they are feeling no pain from the sequester budget cuts.