A look at Alexandria hotels in the days before the Inauguration

A look at Alexandria hotels in the days before the Inauguration
Alexandria Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker wrote a letter to two area Holiday Inns asking them to refuse reservations to Proud Boys. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

By Allison Hageman | ahageman@alextimes.com

In the past, presidential inaugurations for Alexandria were jubilant and filled with visitors.

People from all over the country would go into Washington D.C. during the day to see the President-elect get sworn into office and then come back to Alexandria hotels at night. This year, in the days leading up to the inauguration, the city’s visitors were more National Guard than tourists. Both the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 and a virtual inauguration due to COVID-19 meant extra security and fewer guests at hotels in the city.

“Hotels in and around Washington D.C. are typically at capacity for presidential inaugurations, and it’s a highlight that we look forward to every four years,” Kate Ellis, the general manager of Hotel Indigo and president of the Alexandria Hotel Association, said in an email.

On the night of Jan. 6, after a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, Alexandria hotels, much like their D.C. counterparts, faced attendees of the “Save America” rally spending the night.

In D.C., hotels received backlash on social media for hosting Pro-Trumpers and The Line DC, a luxury hotel in the nation’s capital, issued a statement saying Proud Boys had been removed, accord ing to The Washington Post. In the days since, Airbnb has closed all reservations in D.C. and D.C. hotels have received pressure to close on Inauguration Day from ShutDownDC.

In Alexandria, pressure came from Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, who shared a letter on Twitter asking Alexandria hotels to refuse reservations to Proud Boys. By denying these “violent and armed white supremacists” lodging, hotels would “send a message that there is no place for hate in Alexandria,” Bennett-Parker wrote.

When asked about her motivation, Bennett-Parker said in an email that she had heard from residents who had seen Proud Boys on Jan. 6 and were concerned for their own safety. She said the city should do what they can to prevent another attack in D.C. and that this isn’t about political affiliation but domestic terrorism.

“Alexandrians were there, or knew people who were, and were fearing for their lives and those of their loved ones inside the Capitol,” Bennett-Parker said in an email.

One of the hotels she wrote the letter to, the Holiday Inn Alexandria Carlyle, said in an emailed statement that it did not receive a letter from the vice mayor’s office and declined to comment. Holiday Inn Alexandria Old Town, which was also singled out in Bennett-Parker’s letter, did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the Holiday Inn terms and conditions, a hotel can cancel reservations that disrupt the normal operation or pose a security risk. The City of Alexandria Office of Human Rights does not include political affiliation as a protected class but can investigate discrimination at public accommodations such as hotels.

On Jan. 4, just two days before the attack on the Capitol, Grassroots Alexandria participated in the “No Room for Fascists” protest outside the Holiday Inn Carlyle. They were following in the footsteps of a D.C. group called the They/Them Collective who were lobbying hotels to close ahead of a Pro-Trump rally. One Grassroots Alexandria member even raised money to pay for hotel rooms, to take them from those who would attend the rally, according to Jonathan Krall, a member of the Grassroots Alexandria steering committee.

The group did not have any protests planned for the inauguration besides supporting other campaigns such as ShutdownDC. Krall also said he thought Bennett-Parker’s letter to area hotels was positive.

“Speaking up in public to support democracy is what’s needed right now, “ Krall said in regards to supporting other campaigns.

IHG-branded hotels in the D.C. area, including Hotel Indigo, committed to staying open during the inauguration and keeping guests safe, Ellis said. This decision was made due to long term guests and members of the National Guard, military, law enforcement, media, government officials and others participating in the inauguration who were staying at area hotels.

Many hoteliers also condemn the violence in the U.S. Capitol and actions taken to undermine American democracy, according to Ellis.

Potential hotel vacancies are not the only thing that will be different about the inauguration this year. Added security is required for the event, due to the political climate and recent violence at the Capitol, Ellis said. Her hotel proactively engaged with police, added security action plans and hired additional security for inauguration week.

“Fortunately, Alexandria did not experience any of the violence that we saw on T.V. from the Capitol – I’m thankful for that and proud of our hotel community for continuing to keep safety first,” Ellis said.

The City of Alexandria has been preparing for activities around the inauguration for months, according to a news release. The Alexandria Police Department along with Visit Alexandria worked with hotels on information about preparations and how to report problems, according to the release.

Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown recommended Alexandria hotels follow their “See something, say something” advice. If there are individuals who are not demonstrating peacefully then the police should know about it, Brown said.

For the inauguration, APD had a full deployment of officers who planned to handle any threats that arose. In past years, APD has lent a few officers to D.C. for traffic control and crowd management. The police also worked with federal, state and local partners to share information and monitor intelligence, Brown said.

Both hotels and the APD were working up to the inauguration to ensure safety the day of. Chief Brown hopes for a peaceful week and for things to get back to normal. Ellis is also looking forward to returning to normal.

“I’m looking forward to future inauguration days,” Ellis said. “When we can return to the celebration and high occupancy that typically marks this week every four years.”