It's a provocative photo. One man embraces another atop a table in the middle of a white tablecloth restaurant. Heads turn. One woman looks shocked. The caption: "Get a room."
For years, the D.C. tourism bureau has emphasized the staple attractions of the city, most of them political, and some of them rather dry: the museums, the monuments, the history. For Valentine's Day in 2010, the bureau urged visitors to take part in a series of cutesy "date nights" similar to the First Couple's dating tradition.
But 2013, it seems, is the year Destination DC has decided to get a lot more frisky.
"Shock value...is what D.C. needs," the bureau's president and CEO Elliott Ferguson told members of the Washington hospitality community assembled inside National Geographic's "Birds of Paradise" exhibit on Wednesday. The location was fitting, according to Ferguson, because the exhibit is about birds exercising their animal instincts.
The bureau's Valentine's Day 2013 promotions, accordingly, are a lot less cute and a lot more sexy. Destination DC wants couples to explore the Crime Museum while handcuffed to one together, eat the "aphrodisiac menu" at Ping Pong Dim Sum in Chinatown, have 2-for-1 Mojitos at the restaurant Zengo (which they point out are for twosomes, threesomes or "adventurous" groups), and then guzzle champagne, room service and chocolate-covered strawberries at a hotel in Capitol Hill.
The "Get a Room" ads, which show both gay and straight couples embracing, will run in local and mid-Atlantic newspapers, movie theaters, online news sites, outdoor ads, on radio and in LGBT publications during the next month.
Tourism economist Ken McGill tells Whispers it makes perfect sense for D.C. to go after LGBT visitors. Gay couples travel more often than the average visitor, and are more likely to be well-heeled, according to McGill. And at the "Get a Room" launch Wednesday, Ferguson cited the economic impact of the LGBT community on D.C. as one of the motivations for the campaign.
But McGill says the tourism bureau needs to remember throughout its V-day promotions to stay true to Washington.
"I don't think a city like Washington D.C. should ever move away from its principal tourism product, which is the Mall," he says. "Even at a very subtle level, you need to stay true to the core definition of what you are about as a destination."
Kristin Lamoureux, the director of George Washington University's International Institute of Tourism Studies, says an effort to move people off the mall and out into D.C.'s neighborhoods is much-needed. And she believes even a risque campaign emphasizing Vegas-style romance over family activities doesn't pose a risk to D.C.'s identity.
"D.C. will never be anything but the seat of the national government... and no amount of marketing can ever take that away," she tells Whispers. For those who doubt that, "just look at a million people coming down to hang on the National Mall for Inauguration on a Monday," she says.
The full ad: