Getting tourists to walk the Obama walk

Washington, which was last week voted the most walkable city in the United States, has come up with yet another new walking tour to attract visitors.

But not just any walking tour, mind you -- the US capital already has scads of those.

Its newest itinerary allows visitors to follow in the footsteps of President Barack Obama and his family.

People who walk the Obama walk, which is posted on the website of Destination DC, Washington's tourism office, will take in restaurants, theaters, shops and cultural and historical sites that the Obamas have either visited since they arrived in Washington in January or that are linked in some other way to the first family.

The itinerary is not exhaustive -- the Obamas do get out a lot -- and it's heavy with culinary establishments, including Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, where president-elect Obama ate with Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, days ahead of his swearing-in on January 20.

For those unable or unwilling to walk the walk, Ben's has added a "Barack Obama" link to its website which opens up a video of the visit.

Then there's the upscale Equinox restaurant, where Barack and Michelle Obama dined on her birthday on January 17; the Marvin Restaurant and Lounge, named for Washington native Marvin Gaye and known for the huge Obama mural on the side of the building; and Georgia Brown's, where Michelle and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, took lunch one day.

"The restaurants have told us that having the Obamas as guests has been good for business, and after putting this up on our website, we've heard from other locations in Washington who have said, 'Hey, they've been here, too. We should be added,'" said Rebecca Pawlowski, spokeswoman for Destination DC.

The suggested Obama itinerary is designed to last three days, during which tourists could stop off at the Library of Congress to view Civil War-era president Abraham Lincoln's bible, on which Obama took the oath of office, and visit the National Portrait Gallery to see Shepard Fairey's iconic print of Obama.

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They could round off one of the days with an evening at the Kennedy Center, although they shouldn't hold out hope of scoring tickets for the presidential box, where "the Obama family recently sat to watch a performance by the Alvin Ailey Dance Ensemble," Destination DC says.

Professional tour guide Maricar Donato is working feverishly to come up with a selection of Obama itineraries to sell to clients. She's dubbed them the Obama-rama Power Trip and expects to have them up and running, or walking, in the next few weeks.

Although it was impossible to say how many people have walked the Obama walk since it was posted last month, Pawlowski said it has increased traffic to Destination DC's website.

Obama indicated during a town hall meeting held in France Friday that he would love to be able to take part in walking tours of any city, but understood that his election to the presidency had cost him the privilege of being an anonymous tourist.

"Losing that ability to take a walk, that is frustrating," he said in response to a question about whether he had any regrets about running for president.

There was no similar walking tour for president George W. Bush, said Pawlowski.

"He didn't get out a lot," she said.

"It would have been very short."

AFP

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