Tourism dollars as well as the region's abundance of government and government-reliant jobs kept it largely afloat during the recession.

D.C. tourism trends are countercyclical, according to Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis. That means hard times elsewhere mean more profit for the area.

That's because the region, with its free museums and monuments, is relatively cheap to visit. When families are planning their summer vacations, especially in the populous Northeast, many opt for a car ride to the nation's capital instead of a flight elsewhere.

"When people feel more flush with money, they go to Miami or Las Vegas or even Europe," Fuller said. "People might say, 'We've got money in the bank -- let's go to London this year for our vacation.' "

While 2011 was a record year for Washington tourism -- visitors spent $6 billion that year, the most recent year available, according to the D.C. tourism bureau -- the area's countercyclical nature could mean revenue is due to drop as the economy improves.

"More money in the bank means people can go out to resorts," Fuller said. "Washington isn't a resort." - Matt Connolly