National Cherry Blossom Festival goes virtual for second year in a row

The 109th National Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off Saturday, but for the second consecutive year officials in the nation’s capital are urging people to avoid visiting Washington’s famed cherry trees due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re encouraging the public to experience the cherry blossoms virtually this year to help avoid crowding at the Tidal Basin and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” a spokesman for the National Park Service told The Washington Times. “As for what, if any, opportunities may exist to visit in person, we are still evaluating a full range of options with our cherry blossom partners and hope to make an announcement soon.”

John Falcicchio, the District’s deputy mayor for economic development, echoed the National Park Service’s sentiments in an email: “If you must see them in person, check out other sites like Oxon Run Park or the National Arboretum only if social distancing can be practiced.”

The city’s annual rite of spring typically features parades, performances, exhibits and tours marking Japan’s gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington in 1912.

Last March, festival events were canceled, postponed or held online in accordance with the D.C. Department of Health’s recommendations to eliminate large crowds in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency that is still in effect.

Before the pandemic, the four-week-long National Cherry Blossom Festival usually attracted more than 1.5 million people and generated more than $100 million in revenue for the city, according to festival President Diane Mayhew.

Ms. Mayhew said she supports local leaders encouraging people to stay home during this year’s festival amid the pandemic.

This year’s parade has been canceled, but “flowery art vehicles” will cruise through various neighborhoods throughout the city, and a 24-hour “bloom camera” will provide round-the-clock coverage of the blossoming trees, among other virtual events ranging from singers to a pink tie party.

Liang Yu, a professor of hospitality management at George Washington University, said this year’s festival won’t bring the typical number of visitors but it has a “far and wide” advantage in reaching people via in-person and virtual events.

“This is a strategic approach to penetrate the market and capture consumers’ attention to later sell them into the real thing,” Mr. Yu said in an email.

Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of the marketing agency Destination DC, said he hopes the city’s hard-hit tourism industry will recover from the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has presented financial hardships on the city without tourism, to the tune of $5.3 billion in lost visitor spending,” Mr. Ferguson said in an email. “It’s been hard, but this spring we look forward to locals and visitors connecting with DC in new ways “

Maggie Daniels, who teaches tourism and event management at George Mason University, said the upcoming National Cherry Blossom Festival “will mark the beginning of what is likely to be a robust 2021 tourist season.”

“The desire for a sense of normalcy is palpable and outdoor recreation participation is surging at parks in the metropolitan area,” Ms. Daniels said in an email. “As vaccinations are predicted to become widely available in the late spring and early summer, the [D.C.] area can expect a resurgence of demand for major events, conferences, family get-togethers, sightseeing adventures and public gatherings.”

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