Less is More: Stepping out of D.C.’s shadow, this city uses its small size to big advantage
Founded in 1749, Alexandria, Va., is the oldest and best preserved of D.C.’s original neighborhoods — a fact underscoring how physically and architecturally close this city is to the nation’s capital. Yet while this proximity serves as a natural advantage for attracting meetings and events, the destination has its own distinct group story to tell.
One compelling feature is its exceptional accessibility: Five miles south of D.C., Alexandria sits within a mile of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and is served by Amtrak and four Metrorail stations. Home to 400-plus associations and major institutions such as the Patent and Trademark Office and the National Science Foundation, Alexandria is a center of ideas, innovation and influence that attracts and energizes corporate, board and committee meetings. Off-agenda draws include a nationally acclaimed dining scene and group-capable cultural and heritage venues.
We saw an opportunity to step out from D.C.’s ‘shadow’ to shine a light on Alexandria specifically, including touting our many accolades and the unique assets that support our meetings profile.Carla Bascope-Hebble, vice president of sales for Visit Alexandria
With these impressive credentials, Alexandria’s messaging has evolved to emphasize its own defining identity as a meetings destination, rather than focus on proximity to the nation’s capital, says Carla Bascope-Hebble, vice president of sales for Visit Alexandria. “With our strongest market position in the small to mid-size meeting niche, we saw an opportunity to step out from D.C.’s ‘shadow’ to shine a light on Alexandria specifically, including touting our many accolades and the unique assets that support our meetings profile.”
The new approach highlights Alexandria’s group-hosting capabilities while leveraging its essential leisure appeal for business tourism.
“We are not a convention center city, and while our destination can accommodate larger meetings of between 600 and 800 attendees, Alexandria only has a handful of venues that can accommodate events of that size,” says Bascope-Hebble. “Most of our hotels, conference spaces, and unique venues cater specifically to smaller meetings of 10 to 200 people.”
Our team has consistently elevated global awareness and recognition of Alexandria with high-profile national accolades from Travel + Leisure, Money, Southern Living, and other publications.Carla Bascope-Hebble, vice president of sales for Visit Alexandria
Alexandria’s approachable size and attractions, which include Old Town, the nation’s third oldest locally designated historic district, and its Potomac River-facing waterfront, have attracted major attention from leading leisure publications, which Visit Alexandria is capitalizing on to promote its group appeal.
“In recent years, our team has consistently elevated global awareness and recognition of Alexandria with high-profile national accolades from Travel + Leisure, Money, Southern Living and other publications,” says Bascope-Hebble..
In fact, the city has made one specific honor the focus of its new meetings marketing campaign. “Since 2018, when Condé Nast Traveler created its annual Readers’ Choice Awards, Alexandria has been named a ‘Top 5 Best Small City in the U.S.’ five years in a row,” Bascope-Hebble says. “With small meetings coming back bigger than ever as Alexandria has reemerged from the pandemic, we saw the opportunity to leverage that recognition into positioning as a top small meetings destination with our ‘Being the Best at Being Small is Kind of Our Thing’ campaign.”
Choosing to state playfully that Alexandria is “where small meetings have always been trending,” the campaign, launched in the second half of 2022, draws primarily from a dedicated meetings-oriented photo and video shoot that emphasizes both the walkable experience of renowned King Street and the Alexandria waterfront, along with unique venues catering to the destination’s small meetings niche.
“We leveraged these assets in multiple ways to reach meeting and event planners,” explains Bascope-Hebble. “These solutions included promoting digital banners on Google’s DV360 advertising network and 15- and 30-second videos to a targeted custom audience through Multiview.”
Visit Alexandria has seen a 74 percent increase in year-to-date lead volume and a 35 percent lift in direct leads compared to external channels such as Cvent.
Other components of the comprehensive plan included the placement of print advertising in Destination DC’s Event Planning Guide; paid search on Google and Bing for the meetings market; and the promotion of blog content on Facebook and LinkedIn highlighting new developments in Alexandria and ideas for sustainable meetings and ideas from Visit Alexandria-hosted industry events.
“External agency support for the campaign included Route 29 Creative, which helped to develop the creative concepts; Mekani and One Trick Pony, which shot the new photo and video footage; and Multiview, which developed the new video ads.
Plus, collateral was used to support initiatives such as The Leadership Collection at Alexandria. Focused on executive leadership and teambuilding opportunities, this trio of nationally recognized local organizations comprises the George Washington Leadership Institute at Mount Vernon, the McChrystal Group, founded by retired four-star general Stan McChrystal, and Building Momentum, a veteran-owned engineering and consulting company.
Since rolling out “Being the Best at Being Small is Kind of Our Thing” in the Mid-Atlantic market in the second half of 2022, Visit Alexandria has seen a 74 percent increase in year-to-date lead volume and a 35 percent lift in direct leads compared to external channels such as Cvent. Measured from September 1, 2022, to date, meetings-related content on Visit Alexandria’s website has attracted more than 30,000 page views and counting.
“On a regional level we have seen a direct ROI with industry association chapters such as MPI Potomac Chapter, PCMA’s Capital Chapter, AMPS (Association of Meeting Planners), and SGMP’s Natcap Chapter selecting Alexandria as their host city for various industry events,” says Bascope-Hebble. “Our ROI year-to-date is up 12 percent in definite bookings over last year from the association, government and corporate markets.”
The strategy is right on target. “Alexandria’s proximity to D.C. will always be important, but we are pleased to use this new campaign to show how Alexandria stands on its own,” says Bascope-Hebble of the success so far. “With definite bookings increasing year-over-year, the results are promising and showcase what we already know — that Alexandria is where small meetings have always been trending.”
Header photo: Kristian Summerer for Visit Alexandria