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Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Co. passed out lunchtime sliders to hungry staffers Wednesday, one of the 120 hospitality industry businesses networking with Hill employees in the Cannon Caucus Room during a trade-show event aimed at boosting the District’s fine eats, nightlife, shopping and entertainment.
In exchange for handing over a business card or other contact info to Destination DC, the official marketing organization for the nation’s capital, visitors to the “Ask Me About DC” event scored a meal ticket and access to a bounty of tourism swag.
“I really thought we were going to be here for five minutes,” one attendee joked to a companion as she scooped up a bite from her Dolci Gelati sample.
Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, explained that the two-hour freebie fair is an annual occurrence designed to give the freshman class of members and their staffers helpful information about the city’s most popular tours, attractions and accommodations. Representatives of hotels, limousine services and yacht, bus and trolley tours attended. It spent more than $10,000 on the event.
“If you’re going to live here, you need to learn a lot more about the city . . . even though you are representing somewhere else,” Ferguson told CQ Roll Call. Bringing business representatives, including Washington Nationals presidential mascot Teddy Roosevelt to the Hill, is a way to “bond with all the new members and staffers that have moved into town,” and by extension the constituents who come visit throughout the year.
White House Gifts handed out ballpoint pens and tokens for $5 toward any purchase. The National Museum of Crime and Punishment set up a fingerprint kit at their booth in an effort to lure customers to their downtown location. Barracks Row eatery Ambar invited attendees to try their “Bottomless Balkan Dinner Menu,” passed out vouchers for complimentary cocktails and reminded staffers to tell members of the military that they are eligible for a discount.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said she has been organizing the fairs for more than a decade to “show and tell” people that the District is “more than a government town.” According to a spokeswoman for Destination DC, this is the organization’s fourth time co-hosting.
Scheduling the event during a recess week, when most of Norton’s colleagues are back home in their districts, is a strategic move, according to Ferguson. Staffers have a looser schedule, and they are a valuable audience.
“The reality is, these are the people that are probably making a lot of the decisions because these members don’t know Washington — other than flying into Reagan, going home and maybe going to a couple of restaurants,” he said.