D.C. tourism booming ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Whether you drive to the beach or stay local this holiday weekend, travel and tourism experts are warning to be ready for brake lights and big crowds.

Tourism in D.C. is booming—reaching record levels, with both domestic and international tourism also on the rise.

AAA Mid-Atlantic says 900,000 drivers from the D.C. region will go to the beach or beyond this holiday weekend.

“I’m leaving as early as possible, because traffic is the worst and you’ll be in standstill traffic for like five hours if you don’t,” said Alexandria resident Ashley Oliver.

Meanwhile, 1.5 million tourists are expected to come to the D.C. area.

“So, you can expect an inordinate amount of traffic this weekend. Traffic jams. Every highway will be jammed with people coming into and out of town,” said John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic.

No matter where you’re headed, a new study warns more drivers run red lights over Memorial Day weekend than any other. An uptick, experts attribute to speeding, drunk driving and/or confused tourists behind the wheel.

“There’s so many people who come into the city who are new to the landscape,” Townsend said.

Destination D.C. says the district welcomed a record 17.9 million domestic and international visitors in 2011. That means big business for D.C.’s hospitality industry.

“It creates a ripple effect from hotel stays to restaurant spending in all sorts of areas of our economy,” said Greg Staley of Destination D.C.

Although overseas travelers make up about 10 percent of overall visitors to D.C. each year, they account for more than a quarter of the economic impact from travel.

While the vast majority of visitors to D.C. are domestic, traveling from neighboring states and the Eastern Seaboard, there’s a huge boom in international tourism in the region, especially from markets like China, Italy and Australia.

“The growth in the Middle Class and the traveling public in these countries is certainly a factor in that. Another force is the Washington region is served by a good number of direct flights from international ports,” Staley said.

Among domestic travelers, AAA says car travel will jump two percent this year. Still, many locals play to stay put.

“I don’t have to put extra miles on my car and I can just lounge around at home…enjoy some BBQ,” said southeast Washington resident Yolanda Smith.