WASHINGTON – Want to explore Washington as President Barack Obama has experienced it?
That’s what the city’s tourism bureau hopes for in its “Obama-inspired itinerary,” created to leverage Obama’s appeal in attracting visitors to the nation’s capital amid a faltering tourism market.
Destination DC is coming up with a tour that touches on various parts of the city that Obama visited during his campaign and since his historic inauguration. That includes the Kennedy Center, the U.S. Capitol, the inaugural parade route and the White House.
In addition, there’s a range of places where Obama has gone for grub, such as the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street in northwest D.C. to Equinox, a high-end restaurant where Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dined for her birthday.
Washington tourism officials are trying to thwart market woes by showing the city isn’t just where Obama works, but it’s also where he lives. Besides Obama, they also have plenty of free museums to feature for travelers on tight budgets.
Destination DC will not run the tours, but is looking to sell the idea to tour operators. The itinerary “is designed to give people ideas for how they will spend their time in D.C. if they want to plan their visit the ‘Obama’ way,” said Carla Barry-Austin, a spokeswoman for the tourism bureau.
The troubled economy is hitting the tourism industry, even in popular cities such as Miami and Las Vegas.
“Every community and city needs to ask themselves what do we have that the customer can do that they can’t do closer to home,” said Roger Brooks, founder of Destination Development, a consulting company that helps cities and towns highlight themselves as destinations. “In these economic times, that’s the question to ask. Tell me what you have that nobody else has.”
In 2007, Washington played host to 16.2 million visitors. The numbers are expected to have increased since then, but those figures are not yet available. Destination DC is simply aiming to stay within last year’s volume, but that may be difficult, said Victoria Isley, senior vice president of the tourism agency. With a budget of $14 million, D.C. is far behind the tourism marketing budgets of large cities such as New York and Chicago.
Officials hope Obama will be a boon for the city. They’re focusing on groups who they believe have a keen interest in new president, such as visitors from the United Kingdom. Isley said there was major travel coverage of Washington in the British press during the inauguration.
“We are looking to leverage that interest,” she said.
Brendan O’Grady, a spokesman for the British Embassy, said British citizens are not required to apply for a visa to visit the U.S. so he has no figures for visits to Washington. But anecdotally there’s been significant interest in people coming “to stay on sofas,” he said.
“There have been plenty of Brits finding reasons to visit friends in Washington, where they might not have visited a year ago,” O’Grady said.