Love Your Valentine, Obama-Style

Washington, D.C.'s official tourism arm looks to play social secretary this February to those with a free afternoon in the nation's capital and Obama-inspired ambitions for showing their significant other a good time.

Destination D.C.'s "28-Day Stimulus Plan for Love" looks to take advantage of a month lean on tourism and conventions to entice people with creative date ideas inspired by promotional packages, local flavors and neighborhood haunts. Also on call is therapist Dr. Ruth, who has signed on for the marketing promotion as secretary of D.C.'s Department of Love and Relationships.

Also part of D.C.'s "stimulus," an homage to the first couple which has been lauded by Destination D.C. for shining an international spotlight on the district as a tourist destination beyond monuments and museums. "Explore Obama's Backyard" showcases three days of Obama-themed itineraries (minus the motorcade, traveling press pool and end of night return to semi-historic digs) to mix and match based on a year in the D.C. comings-and-goings of Barack and Michelle Obama.

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The Obama itineraries have been popular, says Elliot Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination D.C., the city's convention and visitor's bureau, and reflective of a couple whose "venturing outside the grounds of the White House and the Capitol building" have opened new potential for Washington.

The Obamas "have given us a chance to play up on the fact that they're a romantic couple," Ferguson says, "taking the corporate government edge off of Washington has been good for us."

Day one starts with breakfast at the Hay Adams, the scene of Michelle Obama's Vogue cover shoot, and ends with a "Michelle Melt" at Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff Eatery, where the first lady stopped for burgers last May. In between criss-crossing the city, day two offers a lunch stop at historic Ben's Chili Bowl on the U Street Corridor where the president and Bill Cosby eat for free. Day three closes out a long weekend with dinner at the Blue Duck Tavern where the Obamas recently celebrated their 17th anniversary, and a nighttime trip to the Lincoln Memorial which the then-president-elect and future first lady did with their daughters last January.

Renee Sharrow, communications manager for the Blue Duck Tavern, says the restaurant has always been strong but saw a marked uptick in demand following the Obamas' October anniversary dinner.

Sharrow feels an "Obama effect" at play, though the D.C. tourism board won't have official data on 2009 tourism till August of this year. (D.C. hotel occupancy remained flat from 2008 to 2009 which D.C.'s tourism board reads as a "good thing" given the national decline in tourism due to the downturn in the economy.)

"When was the last time you heard of the Bushes going out and celebrating Laura's birthday somewhere [on the D.C. scene]?" Sharrow notes, adding that their restaurant's blog rocketed from 30 - 60 hits a day to a number in the thousands the Sunday after the Obamas celebrated there.

The Obamas dining at "local D.C. restaurants has been good for the community" she says, adding that they "put the D.C. culinary scene on the map nationwide."

But romance D.C.-style is not for the Obamas alone.

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