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Obama's second inauguration will pale in comparison to first

President Obama has admitted as much himself: The appeal of his presidency has worn off a bit since 2008.

"I know I'm a little grayer now, and it's not as trendy to be an Obama supporter, because it's not as fresh," the president said at a March campaign event. "Those posters are kind of rolled up in some closet somewhere."

This year's presidential inauguration, just like the 2012 election, will be a little less historic and a little less impressive. Smaller crowds are traditionally expected for a president's second inaugural ceremony, but it's unclear exactly how much smaller the crowd will be this year -- some factors like the slow economy could drive interest down even further. On the other hand, the inauguration falls on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, amplifying the significance of the event, as the nation's first African-American president starts his second term. The variables at play have left Washington, D.C. hotels recalibrating their expectations as the event draws near.

"2008, 2009 was very different, I think, for everyone because of the euphoria," said Hans Bruland, vice president and general manager of the Hay-Adams, a luxury hotel that sits across from the White House. "With the election of an incumbent now... it feels like a return to a normal cycle."

At the same time, Bruland said the interest has slowed down enough that "it is a little worrisome."

"Maybe because of the decision to cut back on the [inaugural] balls, there may be not as much interest," he said. "The whole debate with regard to the 'fiscal cliff' may have put off people."

This year's inaugural committee has scheduled just three days of events rather than four, while there are only two official inaugural balls this year, compared with 2009's 10 balls.

Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 people are expected to congregate on the National Mall on January 21 to watch the official inaugural ceremony, Washington, D.C. officials say. Those figures are slightly higher than the numbers seen for President George W. Bush's second-term inauguration, when 300,000 to 400,000 crowded onto the Mall, according to the Associated Press. However, it's a far cry from the approximately 1.8 million who watched Mr. Obama take the oath of office for the first time in 2009, setting the record for the biggest event ever in the nation's capital.

"2009 was unprecedented," said Sharon Lockwood, general manager of the Renaissance Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel. "When you have a reelection, you can't imagine it will be quite as frenetic."

The Renaissance still has a few rooms available for inauguration weekend, but the hotel was prepared to assist a high number of customers right after Election Day, Lockwood said, noting that they had the 2009 inauguration in mind.

"It caught many of us by surprise at how quickly it sold out," Lockwood said of the 2009 event. For the weekend of the 2009 inaugural ceremony, she said, hotels were booked just days after Election Day in 2008.

"Within the following week it was complete chaos with people trying to get rooms," she said. "People were scrambling to make history. People [this year] are still coming in, just not in the numbers we had anticipated."

As of early this week, the Hay-Adams still had some rooms available for inauguration weekend as well. Bruland said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the weekend but thinks the expected number of 600,000 to 800,000 people on the Mall may be a bit too high.

Destination DC, the official convention and visitors bureau for Washington, D.C., has on its website a list of hotels with vacancies that weekend, showing dozens of places with availability. The organization says it would expect hotels to start adjusting its prices and amenities by sometime next week to make their offerings more enticing.

"You anticipate the numbers will be greater for a second-term president like President Obama still -- because of the historic perspective, over the King holiday weekend -- but it's really hard to gauge how many people will physically be here," said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC. "Hotels are really good at looking at the historical data, but this event is still unprecedented."

In 2009, hotel occupancy in the District of Columbia rose to 98 percent on January 19, and the average rate was around $600. For the greater Washington region, occupancy was 91 percent on the same night with an average rate around $300.

By comparison, the hotel occupancy rate on Jan. 19, 2005 (which fell on a Wednesday), the night before Mr. Bush's second inauguration, was 93.1 percent. The hotel occupancy rate on Jan. 19, 2001 (a Friday), was actually slightly lower, at 88.9 percent.

"The demand is expected to be far less" this year, said Charlie Davis, general manager of the Georgetown Inn. "That's too bad because this is supposed to be our Super Bowl -- that doesn't happen with the real Super Bowl."

January is a typically slow month for Washington's $6 billion travel and tourism sector, but in inauguration years, January hotel occupancy jumps about 4 percent.

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