Sitting down with the President, it’s impossible not to mention the ‘p’ word.
Whether they like it or not, Washington DC is the nerve centre of American politics and worldwide attention tends to focus on whoever happens to be in residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
However, Elliott Ferguson isn’t that President, although he lives quite close to Mr Trump. Elliott is the President (and CEO) of Destination DC and is in Australia to spruik what the city has to offer.
Affable and erudite, Elliott would have made an excellent politician. I ask him if the election of President Trump has made his job easier or harder?
“Yes, we are the seat of power for the U.S and the President happens to be there. We realise that visitors will make a decision as to whether they want to come to America and Washington because of the politics and those are things I can’t control.
“It has been an interesting ride with our current President but research has shown the overall reaction from most Aussies is still positive about travelling to the U.S.”
It may surprise you to learn (as it did me) that 90,000 Aussies visited DC last year, putting us sixth in the number of international arrivals. Those impressive numbers and the capacity for further growth are what have brought Elliott and his team to Australia on a week-long sales and media mission.
“We recognise the fact that political destinations are not necessarily fun destinations and there are so many great locations in the U.S. to go to.
"We are here because we are going to do more in terms of promoting our destination. We are going to look at coming here on an annual basis simply because we want to increase the presence of DC from a leisure perspective.”
Part of that promotional initiative comes in the form of a new advertising campaign, entitled “Discover the Real DC”, which is set to launch in 2019 and will convey authentic Washington experiences.
“We love our monuments, memorial s and museums – they are a great reason to be in the city – but beyond that there is a pulse which is nightlife, theatre, retail, outdoor activities, the restaurant and food scene. That’s what we’re hoping to highlight in our marketing.”
The city is certainly gearing up for more tourists, who currently contribute more than $900 million in revenue to DC’s infrastructure. There are 21 new hotels in the pipeline, new museums are opening and by 2020 visitors will be able to catch the Metro from the airport straight to downtown Washington.
“We look at the economic impact of visitors and we know that Aussies visitors stay longer and spend more. We want to continue that momentum and see those numbers grow because for us it means a better economic impact for Washington.”
Elliott says the DC team will be working closely with Aussie agents to educate them that visitors need more than a day to see all that Washington has to offer.
“I encourage visitors to spend at least three nights in DC. The biggest compliment we hear is that people wished they’d spent more days here.
“Washington is an amazing destination that should be a part of the east coast experience for visitors.”