Washington DC’s president and CEO, Elliott Ferguson talks about what their WeChat partnership means, their biggest challenges and target markets, and also Destination DC’s plan to retain their number one ICCA ranking in United States.
China is US’s biggest overseas market, as the first in USA to establish partnership with WeChat, what is your vision and desired outcome from this partnership for the near future?
It’s good for us, we are the first city to ever have this type of partnership which we are very excited about. We know for a fact that WeChat now has surpassed one billion followers, so it means that we will continue to evolve, and find ways to build upon a relationship and focus on looking at social media as a way to learn about our destination. It’s a communication platform that is beyond conventional advertising, where we share mini programs for shopping and sightseeing recommendations to the vast Chinese market.
Besides China, which other international markets are you focusing on?
When we look at our markets, we look at those that have the largest economic impact. Brazil, and the usual suspects like UK, Germany, Canada, and Mexico, have always been consistently good for Washington DC. India is a new market for us, Australia and New Zealand as well. I’ll be going back to Australia and New Zealand in the next few months to cultivate that relationship and the direct flights from those countries to the East Coast. I refer mostly to our leisure experiences, and when we look at the MICE market, it is a little different because we’re still primarily Europe, and some parts of China and Asia.
The branding for US’s huge domestic market must be different from targeting overseas market, how do you implement your strategy differently for different markets?
We just hosted a domestic-based Orthodontists convention for 18,000 doctors, 35% of the attendees are international. Whereas some of the international meetings that we are going after have about 600 delegates, and that’s still a large size meeting. We are cultivating that market, but we are also taking some of the practices that we use for the international market to pursue some of the domestic meetings too.
Medical, pharmaceutical and tech-based shows normally have 30-50% of international attendees. We will always be aggressively pursuing these meetings and looking at the component that is international, because it might be the delegate’s first time at Washington DC. Most people have a preconceived perception that DC is probably boring because of the government but they often leave with a different reaction to Washington as a destination. When they have an incredible experience and leave thinking “I had no idea DC is so green, with such wonderful restaurants, and great theatres”, these positive experiences help us book more businesses.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced when heading this bureau?
Making sure that we are spending the right amount of money, and getting additional dollars so that we can remain aggressive in the market place. We have to emphasize why it is important that we remain relevant and continue to do marketing and advertising because sometimes the government think that DC is already a well-known and highly desirable city. We have representations globally in five different countries but I want more, and to be able to spend more because that’s when you get the largest amount of opportunity.
What are the top industries in Washington DC?
DC is unique because the largest industry is federal government, that’s good because a lot of other industries are in Washington DC because of the federal government. There are around 4,000 associations, which makes us a hub of associations. People come thinking “I want to go and lobby congress and meet with elected officials.” For example, if you are a medical show, you might want to go to the National Institute of Health which is conveniently headquartered right outside DC.
Industries that the city is going after would be pharmaceutical, bio, and high-tech, those are the primary industries that are relocating to Washington. We have a lot of lobbyist and organic associations. Every major corporate company have a satellite office in Washington DC for obvious reasons, the congress is here.
Do you compete or collaborate with the other US destinations?
Sometimes we collaborate when we are doing marketing especially on the leisure perspectives, we’ve done events with New York, Philadelphia and Florida in Australia because we know that the Australian and Kiwi markets coming to the US spend three weeks, and no one will spend 21 days in a city. We can create more value together by diversifying their trip to see and experience more.
What can Washington DC improve further to retain the number one ICCA ranking in US, or even to climb higher globally?
We’ve only been in the MICE game for ten years, and we’re the number one US destination for MICE meetings, but there are now a lot of cities that are really as aggressive outside the US as they are inside the US. We continue to remain present and relevant, and our customer advisory group helps internationals bring business into the city. A lot of it starts from us being in international trade shows like IMEX, by playing a more active role internationally in building relationships. We also added additional positions to help us pursue the international market. Increasing accessibility by having more direct flights will also make a difference.
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