Obama slept here: "Obamatourism" sweeps the nation

I have just returned from a visit to Washington, DC, where everyone is talking about next month's inauguration. Some estimates place attendance at up to four million people. Even half that amount would be spectacular. (To put it in perspective, Bush's second inaugural attracted only 300,000 people, yet it still cost $17 million to mount.)

Many DC residents are devising ways to rent their extra rooms or even to clear out entirely for the events and rent their entire homes. A typical example is this two-bedroom condo near the African-American hotspot of U Street, going for $1,500. (That's a night, not for the week.) Event organizers are also scrambling to accommodate all those people--the port-a-potty people are flush with anticipation, with every unit in the Mid-Atlantic region on its way to the Mall--and there won't be an empty hotel room for a 250-mile radius, something that worries the Red Cross, which likes to have a few spaces for emergencies.

Only a particularly hardy traveler will brave a trip to a city stuffed with four million outsiders. But Obama's popularity is so high that Washington is only one of the places attracting tourism based on the man. The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau has put together travel suggestions based on the president-elect's favorites, including chef Rick Bayless' Mexican restaurant Topolobampo and the basketball courts where Obama likes to shoot hoops with his brother-in-law, who is the head basketball coach at Oregon State University. The CVB has mapped out a three-day visit based on Obama's Chicago favorites.


Hawaii's tourism industry has been slumping badly lately. Having positioned itself as a luxury destination, the state (and its preponderance of corporate hotels) has almost no contingency plan now that people are seeking stronger value and are shying away from long flights.

Obama, though, and his just-us-folks origins, are helping the state's tourism agenda. The state's CVB has assembled a list of must-sees that mirrors Chicago's. Its dedicated web page uses photos of Obama as a stand-in for yourself enjoying the islands: eating "shave ice" in Honolulu, body surfing in the Pacific Ocean, touring Pearl Harbor with a ranger, and walking on the beach with his daughters. True Obama apostles can even buy an ice cream at the Baskin-Robbins where the president-elect, as a kid, once scooped desserts -- the CVB supplies the location of that, too.

Interestingly, neither CVB in Chicago or Hawaii is selling a paid product to celebrate the new president -- they're only listing places important in his life, which leaves the planning, and the spending, up to the discrection of the tourist. But that doesn't mean a few independent outfits haven't also begun offering paid tours based on Obama's early life. The $40 "Obama Tour," a 2 and-a-half hour guided excursion, takes you to, as its organizers say, "the many places he and his family lived, the places where a young Obama went to school, played basketball, went to the movies, hung out with his friends and went to work at his very first job."

Three of Obama's other home cities, Los Angeles, New York City and Cambridge (where he went to school) have yet to lodge their own versions of Obamatourism itineraries, but some early press clippings do the job for you, supplying addresses of a few of apartments he lived in during his studies.

Not every attempt to cash in on Obamatourism has been successful. A Kenyan tourism company was just chastised by the government there for including a bull-fighting stop on its Obama-themed tour. Makes sense. Everyone knows that the Democrat slew an elephant.

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