For Obama's second inauguration, a subdued, less crowded Washington

Mon Jan 7, 2013 4:55pm EST
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By Samuel P. Jacobs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It is one of those occasions that is quintessential Washington: the inauguration of a president, a multi-day festival of patriotism, politics, optimism and self-congratulation.

All of that will be on display on January 21, when President Barack Obama is publicly sworn in for his second four-year term. But this inauguration will be far less grand than Obama's first in 2009, when a record 1.8 million visitors flooded the city to see the nation's first black president take office.

This time the celebration is likely to attract no more than 800,000 or so guests, city officials estimate. As a result, some luxury hotel rooms and coveted tables at high-end restaurants are still available, less than a month before the inauguration.

The swanky Mandarin Oriental Hotel, with its sweeping views of the National Mall, initially required inauguration guests to make reservations for four nights. Now it has relaxed that requirement to three nights to try to fill its rooms.

But the "inauguration markup" still applies: The Mandarin's least expensive room, normally available for $295 a night, starts at $1,195 a night during the long inauguration weekend.

Even so, the demand for hotel and restaurant reservations for this inauguration pales compared with the rush that followed Obama's first election.

Back then, the scramble for accommodation was so desperate that homeowners and renters in Washington and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs leased their homes for the inauguration, creating a vast secondary market in housing that week.

Hundreds of those homeowners - including former Tennessee senator and actor and Fred Thompson, who offered to rent out his condominium for five days for $30,000 - sought to profit from the festivities and leave town to avoid the crowds.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks to reporters after meeting with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst