- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

Spring is in the air: Hotels and restaurants are filled and tour buses are returning to the nation's capital all good news for an industry recovering from its darkest days just six months ago.
But don't ask William A. Hanbury, head of the year-old Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corp., if things are back to normal.
"I'm in the continuous-improvement business," says Mr. Hanbury. "It won't be back to normal until there's a sense that we're one of the premier elite, global destinations."
That was the goal of the city's marketing arm when it was formed in April 2001. Mr. Hanbury, former head of the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau, was brought in as president and chief executive officer of the WCTC, the result of a merger between the Washington DC Convention and Visitors Association and the DC Committee to Promote Washington.
When he signed on, he knew with a limited budget, a new convention center on the way and the lack of a unified tourism voice in the city that he and his new organization had a lot of work to do. Of course, he never expected to face the biggest crisis of his lifetime.
"I've been doing this for a long time, but I never could have prepared myself for what's happened in the last year," Mr. Hanbury says. "We spent six months of our life in crisis mode out of necessity."
For the weeks immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the hospitality and tourism industry was in a slump. During the last quarter of 2001, the industry took an estimated $1.2 billion hit. Hotel-occupancy rates dropped as low as 25 percent immediately after the attacks, while restaurateurs saw drastic decreases in overall business.

Coming together
But while the industry was suffering, something was stirring a collaboration of businesses and community leaders that the District's largest private industry had never seen before.
"Out of absolute necessity, this incredible collaboration began that hasn't stopped," Mr. Hanbury says. "It's paradoxical that good things actually came from [September 11] for the nation's capital."
The collaboration has extended outside the city with last week's creation of the Greater Washington Tourism Alliance. This group of tourism leaders from around the metropolitan area, including the city, will be working together to market the whole region to travelers.
The efforts from city business leaders and the community are beginning to pay off.
Industry officials are confident that this season, still not up to par with past springs, at least is showing signs of an upswing.
Although the numbers aren't in yet from the two-week Cherry Blossom Festival, hoteliers and other tourism executives say the turnout is better than last year. Hotel occupancy rates are almost back to the same levels as a year ago.
"Business is absolutely better," says Marilyn Matthews, co-owner of Washington D.C. Accommodations, a hotel-reservation company. "We're having a terrific spring. Washington is very busy, at least comparable to last year."
Still absent, however, are the heaping numbers of student groups that usually fill the museums and the Mall. Although some still came to the city, many of the school groups canceled spring trips last fall.
"We're disappointed we lost a lot of student and youth travel business in the spring," Mr. Hanbury says. "There was a significant percentage lost because decisions were made in the fall."
But the WCTC is working closely with tour operators and student groups to get out the message that Washington is safe and still a viable destination for youth groups.
"That piece of business will be back to 100 percent by 2003," Mr. Hanbury says.
With the worst behind them, Mr. Hanbury says, WCTC and the city can begin focusing on significant marketing efforts.
"Now is the opportunity to move beyond the crisis and to really strategically think about how Washington, D.C., is going to be the world's premier convention and tourism destination," he says.
Before April 2001, industry officials said, several groups had the same mission to promote Washington to leisure travelers and conventioneers but clashed at times and were unable to accomplish their goals.
"The purpose of consolidation was to create unity," says Michael Sternberg, a WCTC board member and former chairman of the Washington DC Convention and Visitors Association.
The efforts are paying off.
"I've seen significant change in their approach to marketing," Ms. Matthews says. "But I still think they have their work cut out for them."
Ms. Matthews, like many industry officials, says a lack of funding is the city's biggest problem.
"It's a lost cause until you have some bucks behind promoting the city," Ms. Matthews says.
When the groups combined last year, they brought to the table a $7.5 million budget a small figure compared with other cities that would spend tens of millions of dollars on one leg of their annual marketing campaigns.
Mr. Hanbury since has increased that budget to more than $12 million with the help of city and business leaders, but he says it's not enough.
"Relative to other premier global destinations, we need more resources," Mr. Hanbury says. "We are not sitting back hoping that someone will give us more money. We're out trying to find signature partners and find other financial resources to make sure we have enough money we need."
Since September 11, money to promote Washington has come from myriad sources.
The city has provided $1 million, the Washington Convention Authority gave another $500,000, while the WCTC used $1 million of its own funds to pay for the first leg of its marketing campaign.
Corporate partners Marriott International Inc. and the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation each contributed $500,000, while other businesses like American Express and Verizon have given thousands of dollars.
The WCTC is establishing a nonprofit foundation within its organization as another funding resource.
After the terrorist attacks, the WCTC's main objective was to restore confidence and let travelers know Washington was "open for business."
WCTC kicked off the first phase of its marketing effort, post-September 11, in mid-October with the city's "Be Inspired" weekend, luring residents to be tourists in their own hometown with special discounts and promotions. "Restaurant Weeks" and "Holiday Homecoming" weekends rounded out events in December and January.
After the first of the year, the city started a $1.6 million national advertising campaign targeting key markets like Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh and Norfolk.
"We held our resources until we felt we could best use those resources," Mr. Hanbury says. "When you look back on it now, our timing was really good."

New and old objectives
Before September 11, Mr. Hanbury's objective for the WCTC was to establish a professional organization one that had a clear vision for the city and the tourism industry and one that was proactive in attracting business.
"We needed to improve the overall level of professionalism of the organization," Mr. Hanbury says. "Washington was the type of city that pretty much sat back on its heels and let business come to it."
Mr. Hanbury also wanted to make a cultural change inside the organization, which retained 32 persons from the original two groups.
"We needed a culture change internally that specifically said we are going to be a world-class premier destination," Mr. Hanbury says. "It's nice to be competitive with Charlotte and Pittsburgh, but the reality is we need to be competitive with San Francisco, New York, London, Paris and Tokyo."
WCTC isn't targeting only leisure travelers. The group also has a major focus on bringing business to the 2.3-million-square-foot convention center, which opens in March 2003.
"Our number one strategic goal is to successfully market the new Washington Convention Center, particularly in the next year," Mr. Hanbury says. "There's a lot of emphasis right now to make sure we're up to speed on marketing that building."
The convention center has 119 events scheduled through 2018, according to the Washington Convention Center Authority. Another 135 events are tentatively scheduled.
Mr. Hanbury says his group plans to go after international markets and form partnerships with art and culture groups in the city.
"Fundamental to our mission is that we do a better job of marketing our extraordinary arts and culture assets and our neighborhoods," Mr. Hanbury says. "Five years ago, that wasn't even on the radar screen."
It already has begun. The District's first citywide cultural event is wrapped around the popular exhibit "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years," which opened April 6 in the Corcoran Gallery.
The program, organized and produced by the WCTC and the DC Heritage Tourism Coalition, includes package deals with hotel accommodations, Metro passes and any-day, anytime tickets for the exhibit. Nearly 60 heritage and arts organizations have partnered with the District for this summer promotion, which includes guided walking tours in Georgetown highlighting the Kennedys' lives and the introduction of Mrs. Kennedy's favorite poems at the Capital Children's Museum.
"If you can build those blocks and put them all together, you end up with a pretty interesting product that you can go out to the marketplace and sell," Mr. Hanbury says.
But perhaps the city's biggest attributes now are its symbols of patriotism.
"We're lucky enough to happen to have all the institutions, the monuments and the memorials that best reflect the importance of freedom and democracy in America," Mr. Hanbury says. "I'm convinced in the next couple of years we are going to do very well because people are going to want to come here and see and touch and feel the symbols that have become more important to us in recent days."

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