Destination DC, the independent nonprofit tasked with running tourism marketing for the District, has been walking the high road lately. After rejecting an ad last month from the Museum of Civil War Medicine because it featured a confederate flag in the museum’s logo, Destination DC recently decided it would not publish ads for the NRA-run National Firearms Museum because the ads included images of guns.
“We are constantly evaluating how best to promote Washington, DC for visitors and have decided not to include images that can be considered controversial, which includes the confederate flag and weapons,” said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, in a statement. “We certainly recognize that the National Firearms Museum is a place to learn about American history and we are willing to promote the museum without the weapons imagery in our publications.” The organization also added in statements to the Washington Business Journal that it made the decision to avoid imagery that might be construed as insensitive shortly after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
The National Firearms Museum, for its part, says that suggestions to exclude firearms from its advertising are kind of like asking The Air and Space Museum to make a brochure without a photo of a plane. “It’s not possible for us to advertise the National Firearms Museum without showcasing the relics in the museum,” NRA spokesperson Jason Brown told Washingtonian. “It’s an absurd thought.” Destination DC has been running ads for the museum since 2012, and this is the first time the issue has come to the fore.
According to Brown, Destination DC suggested that the museum change its ads to photos of the entrance, or to stock images of people walking in and out of the building. That, Brown says, would be “impossible.” (Considering the museum’s entryway looks more like a business park backdrop on The Office than a place housing thousands of guns, he has a point.)
In an attempt to allay Destination DC’s concerns, the National Firearms Museum sent ads with photos of historic firearms. But the tourism organization stood by its decision that the ads shouldn’t feature any guns at all. While Brown acknowledged that Destination DC must serve its customers’ interests, he made clear that the reasoning behind the decision was not something the NRA could fathom. “We don’t find that there’s a negative connotation with any firearm, because as an institution we don’t agree with that,” Brown says.
As a privately-owned nonprofit that represents 850 tourism businesses/organizations and draws funds from sources that include DC’s hotel occupancy tax, membership dues, and ad revenue, Destination DC has many stakeholders to represent. Lori Pennington-Gray, a professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport, says that in her experience, tourism organizations don’t typically wade into politics with their marketing schemes. As to why Destination DC seems to be taking a more activist stance, Pennington-Gray couldn’t speculate, but noted that tourism organizations “should reflect the people who live and vote in that place,” and that tourism can get just as political as history.
The National Firearms Museum and the Museum of Civil War Medicine are still members of Destination DC, and Brown says his organization is still deciding how to proceed in its future advertising efforts with DC’s official tourism arm. Visits to the National Firearms Museum have been going up consistently, Brown notes, so the allure of gun history will probably survive this momentary glitch.