DC groups prep comms for inauguration visitors

WASHINGTON: Organizations around Washington are developing communications plans to prepare for a flood of visitors for the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20

WASHINGTON: As the nation gears up for the inauguration of Barack Obama as its 44th president on January 20, a number of organizations around Washington are developing communications plans to prepare for an expected flood of visitors.

Destination DC, the city's tourism marketing arm, is working closely with a number of groups, such as the mayor's office, the DC police, and the Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), to position itself as a central source of inauguration-related information for the media, travel professionals, and the public.

Clear communication is crucial to ensuring that inauguration day goes smoothly, said Rebecca Pawlowski, director of communications for Destination DC. The group is regularly updating the inauguration page of its Web site, using social media like Twitter and Facebook, and conducting traditional media outreach to share information on topics ranging from transportation and parking on inauguration day to tourist activities.

“As information becomes available [from groups like the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) and the Metro], our goal will be to push it out to consumers and push them to those Web sites and those official sources,” she said. Pawlowski added that the organization views digital technologies as crucial for disseminating messages due to the success the Obama campaign achieved when it tapped into social media to engage voters.

While Destination DC is not working with a US PR firm on this effort, it does have “representation” in Germany and the UK to help distribute and manage international PR, she explained.

In addition to reaching out to local media, the Metro, the public transportation system in Washington that extends to Virginia and Maryland, is also expanding its digital presence for the inauguration. This includes the launch of a separate page of its Web site to post updates on transportation and parking for inauguration day and the weekend prior, according to Steven Taubenkibel, public information officer for Metro.

To provide further real-time information, Metro set up an e-mail and text-message alert system to inform people of closed Metro stations and full parking lots through inauguration day. Taubenkibel said ongoing communications efforts like this are crucial because while Metro knows the transportation systems will be crowded on inauguration day, many unknowns, such as the number of people who will actually arrive in Washington, still exist.

“Our [PR initiatives are] a continuing, ongoing effort to essentially get our word out to all of our stakeholders in terms of this monumental event taking place,” he said.

One way the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) is preparing for the day is by reaching out to local hotels to see if they have availability around the inauguration, and if they want to participate in a push to invite more travelers to the region. VTC is compiling a list of participating hotels, along with their proximity to the city and available transportation options, and giving it to Destination DC to post on its site, as well.

VTC is also encouraging tourists to venture beyond the Beltway to explore destinations in Virginia. A lot of VTC's inauguration-related outreach ties back to its promotion of presidential-themed travel packages available through President's Day 2009.

“It is a way to take advantage of something very timely and all over the media right now to boost interest in visiting Virginia at a time when the economy has challenges and our marketing resources continue to be reduced,” said Tamra Talmadge-Anderson, the VTC's PR director.

In addition to inauguration-related pushes, like its “44 free things to do in DC,” Destination DC plans to use the momentum from the inauguration to encourage travel throughout 2009. For example, it will focus on similarities between Obama and Abraham Lincoln to highlight its “Lincoln Bicentennial” campaign, which will run through April 2009.

“There's going to be a lot of interest and excitement surrounding Washington, DC, in the next couple of months,” Pawlowski said. “We expect it to carry on.”

The PIC, the main group behind the inauguration, declined to comment for this article.

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