Washington, DC is cementing its position as a leading meeting destination with its state-of-the-art convention center, some of the country's most unique venues, a thoughtfully redeveloped waterfront, and one of the best sustainability and DEI records around. Learn how the city — and Destination DC — can help elevate your next event.
Washington, DC is known as one of the most connected cities in the world. What may be less well-known is how the city is raising the bar for each of the key elements that form the bedrock of event success: a world-class convention center, atmospheric venues, and a demonstrated commitment to social responsibility.
Many of the city’s top attractions are available to rent as event venues, offering unique out-of-the-box spaces — including along its beautiful, thoughtfully redeveloped waterfront. Destination DC is also breathing new life into the community by running programs that support and sustain diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Convention Center: A Microcosm of City Values & Attractions
DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center (WEWCC) is a state-of-the-art conference facility with the capacity to host complex large-scale events while meeting attendees’ CSR expectations. The center acts as a microcosm of the city itself, representing its values through comprehensive sustainability initiatives and its very own onsite cultural attractions.
The WEWCC provides industry-leading AV services in one of DC’s largest buildings, with facilities that include:
- 2.3 million sq. feet of total space
- 703,000 sq. feet of exhibition space with five exhibit halls
- 198,000 square feet of flexible meeting space
- A 52,000 square-foot ballroom
- 77 breakout rooms
- Over 200 digital signage displays
Through its combination of smart building design and sustainability programs, the WEWCC provides proof-of-concept for ecologically responsible events.
The center is targeting its energy efficiency goals through multiple efforts, including the replacement of all lighting systems with LED upgrades.
Other initiatives help to minimize reliance on air conditioning: In addition to outfitting windows with solar film to insulate against the sun’s rays, the center has automated its HVAC system to circulate outdoor air when temperatures are mild. More efficient heating was also part of the project. “We installed small seasonal boilers that use far less energy than traditional ones, allowing us to bridge the gap during the fall and spring,” explains Hootan Kaboli, senior vice president, Office of Executive for Events DC.
To reduce waste, the center has begun a smart, color-coded recycling protocol. Partnering with Aramark Environmental Service, the center is working towards the proper sorting of its recycling to ensure everything is processed correctly. The WEWCC is even built to accommodate this large-scale effort. “Behind the scenes, we have five massive docks all prepared to receive large volumes of sorted trash recycling,” says Kaboli.
In partnership with PepsiCo, the center has also installed a set of “Dream Machines” that encourage attendees to recycle their bottles and cans. All paper products provided by the center are ECOLOGO certified and made from 100 percent recycled fiber. Additionally, the center works with the local government to recycle over 50 palettes a month.
And as part of a commitment to building a resilient culture of sustainability at the local level, the center redirects surplus food from events to the DC Central Kitchen and Capital Area Food Bank. The WEWCC further reduces its organic waste through a robust composting program.
Unique Features and Attractions
On site at the center, Aramark Catering provides meals emphasizing local, high-quality ingredients, and attendees can sample locally roasted, fair trade coffee at Compass Coffee. Fitness-conscious attendees can visit the Urban Athletic Club, which features both indoor and outdoor space as well as drop-in classes.
The WEWCC also boasts the largest public art collection in DC outside of a museum, including more than 130 pieces of sculpture, paintings, and photography by 93 different artists. Among other highlights, the collection holds work by Sam Gilliam of the Washington Color School, a group of DC-area artists who developed a form of abstract art in the 1950s and 1960s.
Moreover, the collection makes a point of sustaining the city’s cultural scene by showcasing living artists from the local community. “It includes a high percentage of artists — approximately 50 percent — from DC. Many of them are still active and living in this area,” says Kaboli.
Directly across from the center, attendees can experience more local and national contemporary art in an industrial-chic space at the Long View Gallery, which is available for exclusive events. An equally short distance away, attendees can enjoy their choice of unique dining and retail experiences, including the local favorite Unconventional Diner.
Planners looking to reimagine an out-of-the-boardroom event and connect attendees to the authentic DC experience can take advantage of the center’s Connected Campus initiative.
“We really pride ourselves in collaboration. If there’s something unique that a meeting planner or an event organizer wants to accomplish as a part of their program, we’ll try to make it happen. For instance, we’re working with a customer that wants to set up a solar-powered coffee break area.”Hootan Kaboli, senior vice president, Office of Executive, Events DC
Meeting Spaces: National Landmarks for Unique Attendee Experiences
As the capital city, DC is home to an abundance of cultural attractions that are available for special events. Event planners have plenty of choice when it comes to setting up an industry-specific, unique, only-in-DC experience for high engagement and VIP attendees.
Looking to inspire attendees with unique strategic insights? Book an exclusive speaking engagement with a bona-fide intelligence operative at the International Spy Museum, or delight them with a chance to literally go to bat at the home of the Washington Nationals baseball team.
Planners considering a one-off screening or speaking engagement can look to the Warner Theater, an architecturally significant art deco space that features both private corporate bookings and excellent programming. Anderson House offers another beautiful space for a special off-site event. In addition to housing one of the most significant collections of American arts and crafts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum also provides distinctive event spaces.
There are many opportunities for attendees seeking to connect with the history of American democracy. Consider a private event at the National Archives, which holds thousands of primary documents including the original Declaration of Independence. Alternatively, enjoy a culturally rich experience at President Lincoln’s Cottage, a Gothic revival style National Historical monument where Lincoln signed the Proclamation of Emancipation.
Looking forward to Fall 2023, both the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Folger Shakespeare Library will reopen following major renovations.
Waterfront Appeal: DC’s Wharf a Top Spot for Attendees to Recharge & Unwind
The celebrated Wharf District presents attendees with an opportunity to experience an inspiring example of urban renewal. First opened in 2017, the Wharf recently celebrated the completion of a major extension in 2022 — which brings together world-class dining experiences, a chance to enjoy the waterfront environment, and an exciting live music scene in a sustainable, walkable, and accessible purpose-built neighborhood.
Fans of Gordon Ramsay can enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime meal overlooking the Potomac River at the internationally recognized Hell’s Kitchen, or sample an elevated take on American seafood classics at Fish and Chips. Wine aficionados will delight in Easy Company’s airy alfresco patio and phenomenal wine list. Poolside at the Pendry Hotel , Flora Flora represents the best of DC’s sophisticated restaurant scene with plenty of plant-based options and inventive cocktails in a warmly elegant setting.
Attendees wanting to unwind in the fresh air can enjoy numerous outdoor parks and public spaces embedded throughout the Wharf, or explore the Potomac on kayak, paddleboard, or boat. After dark, an abundance of live music venues, including the soon-to-be iconic Floating Stage and Pearl Street, which is closed to traffic and boasts live music along with exceptional food and beverage offerings.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Leading the Industry in Meaningful Action
Destination DC (DDC) offers industry-leading DEI programs and expert education to help planners develop programs that align with their values and inspire attendees. The DEI District initiative provides event planners with curated content that connects them to cultural, educational, and leisure experiences. It can also recommend event venues that celebrate the diversity of DC’s community. Its website even includes a handy resource that highlights businesses owned by people of color, women, LGBTQ+ folks, and those with disabilities.
Local businesses have access to DDC’s marketing support and networking opportunities through the DEI Business Fellowship, which helps to enhance equitability and inclusivity in Washington’s hospitality and tourism sector. Destination DC also works through its affiliate non-profit, the American Experience Foundation, to support the next generation of hospitality leaders through scholarships and experiential learning opportunities.
A City of Innovation, Values, and Culture
While Washington, DC has long been a coveted location for networking and events both large and small scale, event planners will find that it offers far more than its advantages as a ‘government town.’ DC not only offers unique and elevated opportunities to experience local culture, but also shows serious commitment to CSR values. For event planners, that means a wide range of options to create a deeply satisfying experience for discerning attendees.
Did You Know?
A Center of Learning: With over 162 million items in its collection and a further 12,000 added daily, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. This national institution is available for events on special request.
This content was created collaboratively by Destination DC and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.