March 22, 2003
War, safety concerns cut into D.C. tourism
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON - The launching of the war on Iraq has caused a spate of
cancellations of trips to Washington, D.C., especially among school groups.
St. Paul's School in North Canton canceled an eighth-grade trip scheduled
for next week after parents expressed fears that Washington could be the
target of a terrorist attack.
And for the first time in 30 years, seniors from Chippewa High School in
Doylestown will not be making their annual trek through the nation's
As of Friday, federal officials suspended most public tours of the Capitol
until further notice, but exempted already scheduled tours. The last time
that happened was after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center and Pentagon.
Many congressmen and senators said they or their staffs will continue to
offer their own tours to constituents.
"It's a little volatile right now," said Jackie Zufall, principal of St.
Paul's School. She said about one-third of parents were opposed to the trip
and another one-third were unsure, leading to the decision to cancel.
Chippewa High School Principal Michael Tefs said safety concerns and the
prospect of limited access to landmarks contributed to his decision.
"My heart just told me that as principal I'm going to sleep a lot better
knowing that my kids are home with their families at this time," he said.
Many school groups and other visitors have not canceled their plans as the
Washington tourism season gets under way, but others said they are thinking about it.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, who is the chairman of the House
Administration Committee, had hoped to keep the tours going even after the
war began Wednesday. House and Senate leaders and police agreed to suspend tours the next day.
"We feel this is just one way of being able to (better) focus on what's going
on around us," said Officer Jessica Gissubel, a spokeswoman for the Capitol
Also as of Friday, visitors to the House and Senate galleries in the Capitol
will have to make sure they get their admission passes stamped by their
respective congressional or Senate offices. Visitors also have to show
identification for background checks now.
While many in Washington remain calm, bolstered security is evident.
At the Capitol, police working 12-hour shifts tote automatic weapons. At the
White House, streets remain blocked to prevent the public from approaching
the gate, as they have in the past.
The show of force, and regular changes in the appearance of security, are
designed to discourage terrorists looking for a soft target, Gissubel said.
The cancellation of the Chippewa High School trip disappointed many but also brought home how life has changed since Sept. 11, student Ryan Moore said.
"There are sacrifices everybody has to make. I guess this was ours," he said.
Moore, a member of the student council, said most students he knows support
President Bush's decision to go to war.
Tourism officials are unsure what impact the outbreak of war has had on
travel. Last week, hotel occupancy in the metropolitan area was at normal
levels, said Victoria Isley, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.,
Convention and Tourism Corp.
But Isley added that attendance at the National Cherry Blossom Festival,
opening today, is expected to be down. The event likely will attract
700,000 visitors, down from the high of 1 million last year, she said.