News & Politics

Tourism Fair Transforms the Hill

A tourism fair turns the Cannon Caucus Room into freebie heaven.

The Kimpton hotels handed out this key chain-cum-bottle-opener-cum-maraca.

The “Ask Me About Washington” fair, co-hosted by the DC Chamber of Commerce and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, turned the Cannon Caucus Room into freebie heaven. Representatives from all parts of Washington’s tourist industry were on hand to give congressional staffers information to pass along to out-of-town visitors.

“Don’t worry, everything is under the $50 gift limit,” said the Chamber’s Enrique Fernandez Roberts as House staffers signed in at the door and made their way inside, where pamphlets, pins, and pastries awaited them.

Texas made a strong showing. “The Texas delegation works together,” said Claire Howard, staff assistant to Rep. Mike Conaway (TX-11). Howard coordinates tours of the Capitol with Laura Mszar, staff assistant for Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01). “Texas constituents are all our constituents,” Howard said.

And they’re treated with Texas-sized hospitality.“A lot of our constituents are planning their very first trip to DC,” said Marissa McCord, staff assistant for Rep. Randy Neugebauer (TX-19). So McCord books tours for them everywhere from the White House to the Pentagon and mails personalized packets of tour information before they arrive. “We like to make them feel a little more at home,” said McCord. Mszar said she mails similar packets but admitted she couldn’t oblige the most frequent constituent request: to meet their fellow Texan President Bush.

Not that Texas has cornered the market on constituent hospitality. Sarah Stoll, staff assistant to Rep. Ben Chandler (KY-6), sends thick packets of information along with her business card and the congressman’s. Recently a woman contacted Stoll requesting that someone in Rep. Chandler’s office pick her up at the airport, drive her to her hotel, and provide tours throughout the day. While Stoll draws the line at playing chauffeur-for-a-day, she had an intern call a local taxi company to get a price estimate for an airport-to-hotel ride.

Staffers say constituents appreciate these services, and tourist-industry groups are happy to help as they can.

“People need this stuff,” said Sue Porter, director of tourism for the DC Chamber, as she gestured to a pile of fliers. Every year tourism-related companies and non-profits clamor for spots at the fair.

The more the merrier when it came to food. The Palm provided mini-roast beef sandwiches. “We’ve been in DC for 34 years, so we like to remind people that we’re still here,” said Trey Hoppmeyer, assistant manager of the restaurant.Duly noted. Other delectable offerings included almond pastries from Bistro Bis and creamy chocolate truffles from the corner where area luxury hotels were located.

Non-food offerings were worthwhile, too. The National Archives provided free scrolls of the “Declaration of Independence,” and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s pamphlet offered a helpful index of places to eat. Of more festive utility was the Klimpton hotel’s giveaway: a key chain with a bottle opener and miniature maraca attached. Now House staffers can drink, drive, and cha-cha at the same time.

For now, Senate staffers will have to live without a day of brochures and treats. The DC Chamber of Commerce tries to do outreach with the Senate, but big rooms on that side of the Hill are hard to book. While the District has an “in” in the House, the DC Chamber’s Fernandez Roberts observed with a sigh, the reason there’s no similar event in the Senate “may be because we don’t have a Senator.”