The National Cherry Blossom Festival begins this month, but many more new and exciting things are about to bloom in the nation’s capital. As it gears up for a high season full of interesting new hotels and venues for leisure and business travelers, Washington, D.C., held a press conference in Manhattan to highlight a few of the offerings and to give a heads-up to travel advisors, meeting organizers, and wedding planners.
From the Conrad Hotel to an enhanced Kennedy Center, a new Washington awaits. Here are some of the highlights.
1. The REACH: The Kennedy Center Expansion
A $175-million, Steve Holl-designed extension of this world-famous site adds not just rehearsal and performance space, but also an amazing new venue for weddings and meetings.
“This is not a concert hall; it’s 72,000 square feet of open space, where you can experience the creation of art” by watching the artists practice and perform, said Vice President of PR Eileen Andrews, for the Kennedy Center. “It’s the Kennedy Center letting down its hair.”
Premium wedding spaces include the Skylight Pavilion, which can hold up to about 400 guests, overlooking the Potomac. The official opening, in September, will offer two weeks of special programming and open houses expected to attract thousands of music and art lovers.
2. Amazing new properties and hot new neighborhoods
“The most exciting news is that we have 4,500 new hotel rooms coming online in the next year or two, so we can host two citywide conventions and still have plenty of room for our leisure guests,” said Kate Gibbs, senior PR manager, for Destination DC.
Perhaps the most exciting is the K Street Downtown Corridor, around Franklin Square, four blocks that are now home to a row of lawyers and lobbyists and the new headquarters of “The Washington Post.”
In April, it will add the luxury, 360-room Conrad Washington, D.C., with a Bryan and Michael Voltaggio restaurant; a rooftop bar; and two pillar-free ballrooms in 32,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
Down the block is the Eaton Hotel, an upstart wellness brand; a new Marriott Moxy; the beautifully renovated, Art Deco-style Hamilton Hotel; and a new European-inspired Riggs Hotel. Together, the mix of the elegant and the Millennial, the Washington insiders and the global upstarts, surely will create a vibrant and exciting new neighborhood offering “a diversity of experience and lots of volume,” Gibbs said.
3. The new International Spy Museum
In addition to just the fun of it, the new home of the enlarged and greatly expanded Spy Museum (the new space is double the old building) adds a theater and a rooftop event space with sweeping views of the city and the Washington Monument. The top two floors are rentable space, said Aliza Bran, media relations manager, International Spy Museum; the rooftop can be left open to the sky or covered in case of inclement weather. Already, the Museum has “a shocking amount of weddings” on the books for this year.
4. Enchant Christmas
What do you do with a baseball stadium in the middle of winter? Turn it into a Winter Wonderland, of course. A light maze, a Christmas market, 100-foot-tall Christmas trees, and, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, will transform Nationals Stadium into the North Pole for 35 nights this winter.
This three-year-old venture, which has been playing in Seattle and Dallas, will add Washington to its roster for the first time this year (and Tampa Bay in 2020). Guests can ice skate in the infield or party in the private suites; prices start at about $20 per person, said Michelle Leyva, marketing and communications director for the venue.
5. A focus on the end customer and the travel partners who bring them
In a city based on diplomacy, it should come as no surprise that hotels understand the importance of the small gesture. The Darcy, for example, this year is extending its popular Men’s Fashion program to The Collection for women; both programs loan haberdashery and accessories to guests attending events that are more formal than those they may encounter at home; you can borrow a tie or cufflinks, or a clutch bag for your evening at the Kennedy Center, and then return it in the morning (or buy it and take it home).
There are also complimentary cocktails in the lobby each evening; and a cocktail butler who will serve up drinks right in your room. There are complimentary Day Packs filled with Play Doh and art supplies for kids; and picnic and sports gear (including bikes) to borrow, which travel advisors can offer their guests, said Kelly McCourt, director of sales & marketing, at The Darcy.
Many of the properties and venues that Travel Market Report spoke to encouraged travel advisors to give them a call to ask about a fam trip to see the city.
6. And, of course, cherry blossoms
The experts announced that Cherry Blossom Season will begin this year on Mar. 31, and the trees will be at their finest on Apr. 3-6. Many hotels will offer cherry-themed specials. Kimpton Hotels, for example, has a pink-doored Cherry Blossom Suite with live blossoms in the room and a Cherry Blossom Package that includes a map of the best viewing spots.