Washington, DC is much more than the federal capital of the US in the minds of many event planners across the world. It is primarily a connected capital seeking event-driven social impacts with cutting- edge industries churning the city's economy, a vigorous start-up community, and an academic hotbed in the development of business conferences.
Over the past year, Destination DC (DDC) has reinforced its “Connected” positioning, an umbrella marketing strategy on what sets DC apart in successful meetings and events. A cornerstone of the campaign is DC’s intellectual capital and its thriving industries that attract conferences in specific sectors, such as technology, biotech/pharma, medicine, education, sustainability, transportation and government advocacy. The city’s innovation and unique industry assets, including global leaders, experts and policymakers, has also led to blooming events that attract thousands of attendees. “We know that leveraging the Connected Capital is especially important when it comes to international meetings. Destination DC’s Ambassador Circle is made up of regional experts in their respective professional fields to showcase industry potential and bring economic benefits from international bids,” says Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO, Destination DC.
Business event strategists draw on Washington, DC’s world-class events, LEED-certified architecture, and exceptional culture to attract high-caliber industry players, significant partnerships or legacy projects. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the city continues to add value by taking advantage of its unique locations and a revamped supply chain. DC now has more than 26 new hotels or renovations in the pipeline, adding more than 5,892 rooms across eight neighborhoods. The $9.3 billion investment in development and innovation also continues with the new Metrorail Silver Line connecting Washington Dulles International Airport to downtown. Phase two of the Wharf (photo below) opened in October 2022, expanding the sustainable waterfront by a mile. It has public green spaces and a new hotel, and a portion of the Southwest waterfront designated as the first-ever Mobility Innovation District (MID). In addition to the 15 citywides in 2022, seven international meetings brought 19,000 room nights and 10,000 attendees to the city. “In this recovery phase, association meetings want to go to geopolitically stable, established settings to ensure peak attendance and revenue. Washington, DC has seen increased interest in our destination for 2024-2026,” Ferguson states.
The city has been flexible in pivoting around short-term deals while seizing opportunities for typically non-meeting seasons. With a shorter booking window, DDC is growing corporate business opportunities to help fill hotels during need periods. “Like many destinations, we’re experiencing industry issues impacting where people will meet, including long visa wait times, airlift and the rising cost of transportation.” According to the DDC president, local industry progress will come with greater advocacy with U.S. Travel Association and Brand USA. “President Biden announced a new Assistant Secretary of Travel and Tourism at the U.S. Department of Commerce that will have a seat at the policy table and advocate for the industry.” DDC has recently secured new funding that will market the destination leaving a lasting impact on the local economy. “Our measurable goals are metrics related to the amount of room nights contracted and leads generated, however, we are evaluating new metrics...” says Ferguson.
The state-of-the-art Walter E. Washington Convention Center (photo below) remains highly appealing to international clients and businesses and is an important priority in the DC recovery landscape. In May 2022, the convention centre received a WELL Health-Safety Rating from the International WELL Building Institute for its enhanced safety and wellness measures. Washington, DC’s strategy is to attract association meetings through highly-targeted solicitation based on industry sectors, meeting timeframes in need periods, and business that is considered brand new for its ecosystem. Associations have always been an important part of the DDC strategic outlook as they work in tandem with major cities on the Global Association Hubs Partnership. In January, PCMA announced a new strategic partnership with the American Geophysical Union, a DC-based global earth and space science association with approximately 65,000 members, many of whom are climate scientists. The partnership will focus on designing sustainable events and calling for discussions around climate change.
Washington, DC is a smart city that continues to lead in sustainability (through green developments like the Wharf), innovation (like the newly designated MID) and equity by being recognised as the #1 city by the Trust for Public Land for its park systems. DDC engaged city partners on this journey, such as the DC Department of Energy and Environment, as well as experts from local universities. Here, sustainability has a dedicated task force that reports on city initiatives, sustainable locations and best practices. One of these, Connected Community, assists associations on meaningful legacy projects that align with their mission and give back to the local community. The American Experience Foundation offers educational programmes, internship opportunities and scholarships to local students involved in national hospitality and tourism academies.
The DEI District is a content hub providing resources for meeting planners, and the development of the 11th Street Bridge Park, combining environmental, social and economic impact, is on the books. “Association Events present an opportunity to tap into the culture of the destination, support local businesses and gain a better understanding of various communities that serve the travel industry,” says Ferguson. Finally, Washington, DC’s Mayor Muriel Bowser recently introduced “DC’s Comeback Plan” and Economic Development Strategy for 2023-2027 that has both economic and social impact for the local communities. “Destination DC strives to promote and support local businesses that reflect diversity, equity and inclusion. Meetings support the local economy by connecting with the community that benefits in countless ways and can leave a lasting social impact as minority-owned businesses,” concludes Ferguson.
*All photos courtesy of Destination DC
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