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Destination D.C. At IPW 17.

INDUSTRY EDGE

TRADE SHOWS & CONFERENCES


DIVERSE EXPERIENCES & MANAGING EXPECTATIONS: elliott ferguson

Destination D.C. President  & CEO Discusses Perspective & Ideas In Bringing Brand USA Confab IPW To Washington D.C.

Elliott Ferguson, President & CEO Of Destination D.C. at IPW in Washington D.C. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Helping create diverse experiences in a city is always a challenge. But when the city is Washington D.C., it takes on a whole new meaning. The capital of the United States has always had its iconic perceptions but once on the ground, the scale of it becomes a little more manageable. Many people are walking. The layout is different than one may expect. With the biggest tourism show in the USA in his living room, Destination D.C. CEO & President Elliott Ferguson stepped up to the plate. Ferguson sat down inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. With MRV: The Buzz Editor In Chief Tim Wassberg to discuss perception, ideas and the aspect of cool. 

The Buzz: Encapsulating D.C. into an IPW is likely a tricky prospect because you have these great ideas of the people in the city, of the places in the city, and the general vibe of the city. Can you talk about how those work together 

Elliot Ferguson: Sure, sure. And tying it into the visitor and their perceptions of Washington. I think that one of the things we sell against clearly is the perception of Washington solely based on the thought that it's just a federal city. And clearly, the federal experience is an important experience, and it's part of the journey of coming to Washington D.C., but what we wanted to accomplish for IPW is to tie in the things we've been saying for years as we travel around the globe. In talking to individuals, everyone knows Washington. They're packaging Washington with the rest of the United States. But they've never been here. So they have preconceived notions. If I'm in Asia, their perception is – and I always ask them questions. I start off every presentation with: "Oh, how many people live in Washington D.C.?" "5 million, 10 million, 20 million." I was like, "Only 650,000". So giving that speech, putting it into perspective. You get the wow factor so they experience, "Now I get what you're saying." So they can see why D.C.'s so cool. 

The Buzz: And how you've defined cool. 

EF: How we've defined cool. So the outdoor experience -- when you talk about it -- every city has some degree of green space, but the perception of 50 story buildings and the New York City perspective is not Washington D.C., but that's what visitors envision until they come here. Then they realize "Wow, you've got the Potomac and the Anacostia Rivers," which you can do outdoor activities on. You've got a city that lends itself to exploring and to riding a bike, jogging, walking. it's a very walkable city. Let's just face it. If you were going to a destination and if the destination is only one-dimensional, are you going to really enjoy all aspects of the destination? So you're in the 17 free museums here. The museums close at 6:00 or 7:00. Are you going to go to great restaurants? To a show? Can we go see theater? Can I go to a sporting event? Can I do something romantic on the river or even in the surrounding area? Those ideas never resonated. So now with you and so many of your colleagues that really influence travel being in our city, hopefully [that will change].

A Destination D.C. Staffer On A Tour at IPW in front of The White House in Washington D.C. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: But you also have to look at it from your point of view, in terms logistics. I almost look at the logic of a city, how it's laid out, how it's built, how people use it versus the emotionality that they have seeing the Capitol or being on The Mall or seeing these different places where things happened. Could you talk about that? 

 EF: We pride ourselves in the fact that being the nation's capital is an asset. The negative asset or aspect of it is always tying it into politics, be it current politics or any politics. Because it does not resonate as, "Hey, I want to go to that destination because of whatever's happening politically”. No matter who's in the office, and especially now with what's going on, really molds the landscape of a destination with that they've seen. People have seen the Capitol Building probably all their lives on TV on the news or the Washington Monument. You can't do something in Washington, DC without touching The National Mall. But for us, we want to make sure that people see the other aspects of Washington, DC. But you're right, we want both. You sit in front of a family of five and say, "Okay, we can go to Washington, DC or we can go to Disney World." We're probably going to lose because the family's going to want to go to Disney because of the kids. But once they come here, once they experience it and you see how much more diverse it is. There is also so much money to be saved because there's so many things that are free. Wine country is 45 minutes away in Loudin County. In that way, it lends itself to be a more diverse experience in terms of visiting. 

The Buzz: And it's also such an inquisitive experience too. I went to the International Spy Museum and just the fact that you could talk to a former spy. And she knows what's NDA and what's not, but you can see these people who have worked here for years. They're here, and they're here to talk. I mean, granted you have to go through public affairs, which is another level of stuff you have to deal with. But could you talk about the people in that way and how diversified the people are here and what they do? 

EF: I think one of the misnomers again is that Washington is a city with millions of people who live here. It's not the case. However, when you look at the landscape of Washington and the fact that you've got 180 Embassies, 180 cultures. When everyone talks about how diverse their destination is, and they probably are, but when you really think about Washington, DC as a destination and to your point the fact that the KGB, Scotland Yard, and CIA got together with all this Cold War stuff and said, "What the heck are we going to do with it?" And now there's a phenomenal museum whereas they all come together, and there's so many “only in DC” experiences. One of those examples was a huge 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming's James Bond held in Washington, DC. It was a huge reception at the British Embassy with spies from each country telling stories about how they used to spy on each other, and the former ambassador during that time telling stories about what they used to do, then going to see a movie, and then going to the spy museum. You can only do something like that in Washington. It's magical.

A View Of The Capitol Building From The Newseum During  An IPW Function in Washington D.C. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

EF: That ties the experience of coming to Washington a little differently than perhaps some of the other cities in the US. So, we encourage people to make us a part of their plans -- especially the international community this year because they're going to be here longer than Americans. Americans we take three or four days off. It takes us about five days to decompress and put the phones down, then you have to go back to work. International visitors are here for 21 days if they're from Australia, they're not going to stay in one destination for 21 days. We want to get them to explore but also realize that you can't-- you really want to diversify your time here. 

The Buzz: Can you talk about your experience in DC and your background? 

EF: I moved here 16 years ago, and I'm one of those people where it was all about marketing a destination. If I didn't like the destination, I couldn't do it. I moved here from Atlanta, and I liked Atlanta. I moved there originally from the West Coast. As I was living in Atlanta I said if I ever left, Washington is one of those cities that I'd love to go to because I really enjoyed coming here. My experience was always catching a cab or on the metro but I always thought it was such a beautiful city and so convenient compared to so many other aspects of the east coast. Someone from the West Coast asked me today, "Do you miss California?" Well, I'm like, "I love California." But you can drive for 10 hours and you're still in California. Whereas in this region you can drive for five hours and be somewhere totally different. The populous in this specific region of the world is is so uniquely different. Just the experience of being in Washington, the convenience of being in Washington and just its walkability which is what I love so much about Washington. 

The Buzz: My last question to you is that IPW is such a big undertaking both from just the logical point of view but also the overarching aspect. You're talking in front of huge, huge crowds. The mayor's coming through, all this kind of stuff. Can you talk about what the experience of it is for you 

EF: Yeah, a lot of moving parts for us but so worth it because this is like the biggest commercial that we can have in terms of how those that influence travel and write about Washington, D.C. and influence others. I love when people say you think you know Washington. So yes, there are a lot of moving parts. There's a lot of money I had to raise. It's money and time well spent and as I tell the team now the hard work begins afterward because we have to continue that follow-up and continue that momentum.


Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Cherry Hill Park

Make Sure To Stay At: 

Cherry Hill Park,  which is a family owned and operated RV resort with traditional values and modern amenities. They are the closest RV park and campground to Washington D.C.  and have been serving campers in the D.C are for over five generations.

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