DC Shows How to Turn an Event Destination Into a Bleisure Dream

The Lincoln Memorial at night, a top after dark option for bleisure travelers visiting DC for a business event.

Skift Take

Recent research from Freeman shows that 82 percent of professionals are looking to combine business travel with leisure. Taking inspiration from DC, here are five ways to ensure that your attendees benefit from the full bleisure experience at your next meeting.

This content was created collaboratively by Destination DC and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

If there’s one trend that meeting planners should be aware of, it’s “bleisure” or “blended” travel. Corporate travel managers, airline executives, and travel management companies all report that professionals, whether tacking a leisure weekend onto a business trip or enjoying unique local experiences during the evening, want to make the most of their time.

How can event organizers ensure they haven’t missed the boat in marketing to this new breed of bleisure travelers?

The first step is to choose a destination that blends business opportunities with world-renowned attractions. The two often go hand in hand, as Destination DC’s president and CEO Elliott L. Ferguson explains: “A great leisure destination makes a great meetings destination.” The key is to design an event agenda that takes account of attendees’ appetite to explore.

Washington, DC — recently named one of the World’s Greatest Places by Time magazine — provides a perfect case study for event organizers looking for creative ways to give their attendees a satisfying travel experience. Let’s look at five strategies that can make that happen.

1. Invite Your Attendees to Enjoy Sweeping Views

Bleisure travelers on a time crunch will appreciate a chance to experience their destination in one panoramic sweep.

Melissa A. Riley, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Destination DC, explains one of her city’s unique charms: “With nothing taller than the Washington Monument (or US Capitol and no billboards), DC’s rooftops and hotels offer pristine views of most of the landmarks.” DC guidelines cap building heights to be no taller than width of the road they face, making uninterrupted sightlines the norm.

Attendees looking to take in the city’s grandeur will find the VUE Rooftop remarkable for its elegant ambience and views of the White House. On the roof of the historic Watergate Hotel, Top of the Gate overlooks the Kennedy Center and the Potomac River. Another top choice, the Summit at Conrad invites guests to enjoy elevated ethical dining, including a corn and crab fondu cooked in a solar oven.

The VUE Rooftop in Washington DC is a favorite spot for bleisure travelers.

Providing attendees with a list of great views means they’ll find the spot that suits them best. Here are just a few more of DC’s many rooftop venues that have the potential to be the highlight of a bleisure traveler’s trip:

2. Tip Your Attendees Off to the Hidden Away Nooks

Nothing makes a traveler feel like they’re part of local culture quite like being let in on a secret. Enter DC’s extraordinary speakeasy scene.

Consider polishing off a dinner event with a social mixer at the Wells speakeasy, situated between Duck & the Peach and La Collina — two restaurants available for a single event takeover. Guests can use the same hidden door that Members of Congress and other VIPs regularly slip through. Attendees with an appetite for the clandestine might also enjoy walking through deli freezer doors into The Speakeasy at Capo, or past the entrance to a drycleaning business on their way up to Left Door. Those looking for a different adventure can travel back to the future at Never Looked Better, where retro futuristic decor conjures underground 90s rave vibes, or relive their arcade glory days at the pinball-themed TILT Sidebar.

What’s hidden behind Capo Deli’s freezer doors? This luxe speakeasy. Image credit: Jennifer Chase.

Enthusiasts of Prohibition-era ambience and the mystique of political intrigue will appreciate spots like the Denison Liquor Bar, the Alex Craft, Off the Record, and the Mirror. A distinctly contemporary Washingtonian experience awaits attendees who indulge in the surprising, cosmopolitan creations at Serenata and the Gibson.

3. Delight Attendees With Only-Found-Here F&B From Local Favorites

Showcasing local, diverse cuisine for catering and off-site meals means bleisure can start at lunch.

Multicultural Cuisine

Highlighting local favorites inspired from all over the world is a sure-fire way to capture bleisure traveler interest. Destinations like DC offer famously delicious food from around the globe. Balkan-inspired Ambar, gourmet Ethiopian hotspot Elfegne, proudly Mexican Mi Vida, authentically Georgian Supra, modern Afghan kitchen Lapis, Laotian powerhouse Thip Khao, and classically French Petite Cerise all offer culinary experiences that bring together attendees and locals over their shared love of good food. As Genevieve Ladino, the senior sales manager at Fogo De Chao in DC says, “We are really filled with a city of nice, welcoming, heartwarming people.”

Two interior shots of bleisure favorite Mi Vida restaurant, showcasing its bar with backlit shelving on the left side and its dining area with a large floral mural on the right side.
Mi Vida restaurant in Washington, DC.

The Classics: Pizza, Bakeries, Grills, and BBQs

Top picks for classic American cuisine are always a crowd pleaser. In DC, the Old Ebbitt Grill brings time-honored seafood and steak meals to tables steps from the White House, while Timber Pizza in Petworth promises to hit the spot and Call Your Mother Deli offers hearty, socially responsible meals. Or considering catering from a favorite like The District Pit, celebrated for its woodfire BBQ.

Private Group Dining Options, Chef’s Tables, and Cooking Classes

With a bit of planning, time-pressed attendees can enjoy the culinary delights of more than one kitchen. Ask about options like those in DC’s Penn Quarter, where groups can dine at several restaurants during their evening, including at chef José Andrès’ Zatinya, Jaleo, and Oyamel. Alternatively, organize a memorable team-building exercise through a group cooking class that ends with a shared dinner.

4. Mix Culture and Entertainment Into the Conference Agenda

Consider going the extra mile with cultural experiences and entertainment options that tie into the event’s core theme.

Bolster Topical Sessions With the City’s Unique Qualities

By connecting with local businesses, organizations, and attractions that are keen to welcome bleisure travelers, you can open up doors to remarkable collaborations.

Brian Cutler is the convention chair of Otakon, an annual festival celebrating Asian pop culture hosted in Washington DC. He explains that working with Events DC and Destination DC helped him connect with suppliers and create unique attendee experiences: “With so much support from local businesses, it’s definitely exceeded our expectations.” AwesomeCon has also seen success collaborating with the Fairfax Library, the Museum of Science Fiction, and NASA scientists at its annual Science Fair.

Organize an Off-site Event at a Must-See Venue or Neighborhood

Destination-specific experiences can make for a once-in-a-lifetime memory. Look for opportunities to host events at culturally significant spots like the Smithsonian Institution’s many museums or the National Cathedral in DC.

A conference’s dinner event at National Cathedral.

On the more ambitious side, NAFSA planners pulled off an extraordinary opening ceremony in DC for their 75th anniversary. Hosted at the Washington Nationals Ballpark, the event provided food, drinks, entertainment by local favorite The Chuck Brown Band, activities on the ballfield, and fireworks to close out the night.

Planners working on a smaller scale can create a program that integrates local experiences throughout the day. The Alliott Global Alliance Worldwide Conference brought together attendees from 44 different countries through a combination of conventional sessions and social events organized at Pearl Street Warehouse, located in DC’s legendary Wharf neighborhood. As an added perk, they partnered with Spiral Fitness to provide workout sessions throughout the morning.

For out-of-the-boardroom events, classic group activities hit the mark for attendees looking to connect through a shared social experience. Swingers Washington DC and Kraken Courts promise fun and games close to the city core. Or, for the truly adventurous, consider booking a karaoke room at a venue like Live-K, which offers private rooms for groups of up to 40.

An association convention’s opening night, held at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

Create an Event Within Your Event

Integrating themed performances and film screenings into event programming offers a shared experience that extends and deepens attendee engagement.

For example, Otakon has seen success providing a nightly concert series by Japanese and Korean musicians. Other conferences have created their own mini film festivals, converting session halls into evening screenings followed by filmmaker Q&As.

5. Recommend Activities for After Hours

Even when attendees don’t tack on an extra weekend in the city, they might want to add in a touch of bleisure at the close of the day. Pull together recommendations by reaching out to your DMO for tips and testimonials from past visitors. Great ways to share these insider scoops include marketing emails, social stories, and blog posts leading up to your event. Check out for things to do, itineraries, and the latest events in DC.

Highlight Unique Tours

Provide attendees with an excellent opportunity to continue the conversation outside of the boardroom by scratching their itch for the one-of-a-kind.

For instance, DC’s Spyguide tours are led by intelligence agency veterans who give attendees a glimpse into the real world of espionage.

It’s also a best practice to check for accessibility information when presenting options to attendees. The Old Post Office Tower in DC offers self-directed tours in a fully accessible space, while private boat tours like the Georgetown Canal Boat Tour allow for people with varying degrees of mobility to enjoy the city sights together.

Curate the City’s Top Night-Safe Options

Attendees will appreciate hearing about ways to check out the city safely at the end of the work day. After hours museum programs are a great way to engage with the city’s cultural mission. Another option: open air guided bus tours, like DC’s Monuments by Moonlight, with stops at major national monuments, including memorials to Vietnam Veterans, the Korean Conflict, and Iwo Jima, as well as monuments to FDR and MLK Jr.

An evening view of folks sitting and walking together around Dupont Circle in Washington DC, a top destination for these kinds of "after hours" bleisure activities.
Dupont Circle, one of DC’s many attractions for bleisure travelers to visit after dark.

Provide a List of Favorite Green Spaces and Outdoor Activities

Don’t forget to appeal to attendees who need to unplug and recharge outside. Exceptional public parks, like DC’s (nominated the best U.S. city for its parks system by the Trust for Public Land two years running) provide great opportunities for green-space relaxing at sites like the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and Rock Creek Park.

Seasonal suggestions like DC’s Jazz in the Park Fridays at the Sculpture Garden, National Cherry Blossom Festival, and Smithsonian Folklife Festival will be valuable to the bleisure traveler who wants to be in the right place at the right time.

Outdoor movie screenings offer another possibility for unwinding after a long day indoors. Tipping attendees off to outdoor movie venues like the National Mall, Library of Congress, Union Market, Hillwood Estates, and the Kennedy Center will help them catch an exceptional viewing experience.

Build Buzz by Helping Attendees Absorb Local Culture

Bleisure travelers appreciate a vibrant, world-class music scene. In DC, Anthem and Pearl Street Warehouse program brag-worthy performances. Indie music fans will want to see what’s on at The Atlantis and Black Cat. And EDM enthusiasts will find a great spot to blow off steam at the Echostage, while jazz and blues lovers can enjoy top acts at Blues Alley.

Give attendees who love live performance a heads up to secure a coveted seat by letting them know what’s on at their destination’s top theaters. In DC, Ford’s Theatre presents plays that explore the American experience; Warner Theatre hosts comedy, magic, musical, and theatrical acts; the National brings Broadway musicals to the city; Arena stages extraordinary plays; and Signature delivers compelling productions of established and new works.

Provide literature-minded attendees a list of locations that host regular author talks by being on the lookout for bookstores and cultural organizations that host free book readings, like DC’s Politics and Prose, Kramers, and Sixth & I.

Last but not least, don’t forget to include information for attendees who would relish the chance to catch a great game. In most major cities, baseball, hockey, basketball, and soccer may have matches on offer. As for DC, it’s home to the Capitals, the Nationals, the Wizards, and DC United.

Open Attendee Eyes to the Authentic City Experience

Bleisure travelers know that every city has a distinct identity that, grounded in its history, lives in the present.

Anthony Bourdain said of Washington: “DC is not just a city of dead presidents and cold marble monuments… This is a city filled with actual living, breathing, eating Americans.” Extraordinary event planning does the work of connecting visitors to both.

For more inspiring ideas from one of the world’s top bleisure destinations, visit the Destination DC website.

This content was created collaboratively by Destination DC and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.