13 JUN 2019: US travel officials are hopeful that Brand USA, the industry’s destination marketing organization, will be reauthorized by the American government in 2019 – a year early – for another five-year term. Its current mandate expires in September 2020.  

The move would provide stability for a critical economic sector in the country at a time when travel to the US is “falling behind” the rest of the world, according to US Travel Association (USTA) president and CEO Roger Dow.

International travel to the country increased by 3.5 percent in 2018, but well behind the global long-haul increase of 7 percent. Moreover, America’s share of the global travel market has dropped from 13.7 percent in 2015 to just 11.7 percent in 2018 – a seemingly small dip that that nevertheless represents “a huge number of visitors and tens of thousands of jobs that are so critical to us,” says Dow.

Many observers blame the tepid growth on the isolationist policies and general bluster of the Trump administration, but Dow is quick to suggest that it is misplaced to “lay this at the feet of our president.”

Data, he says, suggests the top influencer affecting a decision to visit the US is the strength of the dollar/cost, adding that crime/gun violence is “creeping up to No. 2 or 3.”

He points to rising numbers of Mexican travellers to the States, as a prime example. “We see that travellers are able to separate politics and place… We build bridges not walls in the travel industry… and we’re going to continue to keep up the drumbeat in saying, still come to America.”

And Brand USA is critical to that mission, he emphasizes.

A just-released Brand USA return-on-investment (ROI) study, for example, shows that the organization has a substantial impact on influencing increased – and, more importantly, incremental – travel to the US.

Over the past six years, Brand USA’s marketing efforts led to 6 million incremental visitors to the USA who spent $21.8 billion on travel, created $47.7 billion in total economic impact, and supported, on average, nearly 52,000 incremental US jobs each year. The six-year results equate to an average marketing ROI of 28:1 for every dollar spent.

In the 2018 fiscal year alone, Brand USA's consumer and trade marketing initiatives helped generate 1.13 million incremental visitors to the US, spending a record $4.1 billion, according to the study by Oxford Economics.

“The 2018 ROI study confirms the effectiveness of the creative and inspirational programs and campaigns Brand USA creates to increase international visitation,” says Brand USA president and CEO Christopher Thompson, who highlighted for delegates at the recent IPW travel trade show in Anaheim, California, some of the successful 2018 initiatives of the now nearly 10-year-old public-private partnership:

• A USA consumer campaign now available in 14 markets, including Canada.

• Premiered Brand USA's second giant-screen film, “America's Musical Journey,” which explores US destinations using music as a cultural lens to discover the diversity of experiences across the United States. The film opened in more than 75 theatre across nine countries and is expected to reach over a million viewers by the end of 2019.

• Launched the “Hear the Music, Experience the USA” campaign, which features five artists from five cities representing five musical genres and their interpretation of the iconic song “Do You Want to Dance.” In partnership with Spotify, created 20 destination-specific playlists which have been streamed more than 29,000 times.

• Launched a proprietary connected TV channel GoUSA TV, now available on Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire. The channel currently streams more than 20 original and episodic features told from the diverse perspectives of people across the US.

• Continuation of roadshows, trade shows, sales missions, and fams.

• The USA Discovery Program online training and education platform for travel trade, tour operators, and travel agents reached nearly 30,000 registrants.

• Expanded Brand USA's partnership network to 982 partners, and with those partners distributed nearly 550,000 inspirations guides and launched 13 multi-channel campaigns across nine markets, including Canada.

A full slate of international efforts continues in 2019, including, notably, the recent appointment of the first “international Brand USA employee,” Colin Skerritt, as regional director for Canada, which is the US’s top international market (with 21.5 million visitations in 2018 and comprising 27 percent of all international arrivals according to 2017 data).

The Hear the Music campaign has also been expanded with two new classic songs (The Romantics’ “That’s What I Like About You” and KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes”); and a third Imax film, tentatively titled “Into America’s Wild,” has begun production (for release in 2020).

“I think,” says Thompson, “we’ve accomplished a lot.”

As for reauthorization of Brand USA, Dow says, “the good news is there is a lot of bipartisan support from Congress… Last month we had a letter of support for Brand USA signed with 50 signatures from senators on both sides of the political aisle, that’s basically half of all senators in the United States.”

A similar letter is circulating in the House of Representatives and US Travel and its partners are continuing to build support, he adds.

As such, Dow believes that the reauthorization of Brand USA is “very close.”

“I keep saying, Brand USA is here to stay. It just makes sense. I can’t stress enough,” he adds, “the importance of what Brand USA does to bring all our visitors from around the world.”


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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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