Over the next week or so, Brand USA will unveil its campaign for marketing a certain product we all know – the United States of America.
After years of wrangling and debate, this public-private entity will begin the effort aimed at regaining international tourism market share for the U.S. – which has witnessed a dramatic shrinking in the last decade from 17.2% to just 11.6%. Absolute numbers have held up but since global tourism has grown so much, the result has been slippage.
A lot of money has been spent internationally by big brands like Hilton and Starwood, of course; and by gateway destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando. But that level of spending pales in comparison with the kind of money spent by countries like the U.K. and Spain.
Of course, it’s not easy to sell as complex a product as the U.S. The goal is to create a unified, approachable image of the country. While many international travelers might know Orlando, Las Vegas and New York, they might not know about the many other markets and attractions in this country. One of Brand USA’s solutions is to pair places large and small destinations in the same package.
The marketing initiative will include, but not be limited to, a global advertising, earned media and public relations strategies, a robust social media outreach plan, promotional and incentive campaigns, trade shows and sales missions, and educational campaigns about U.S. entry policies.
Marketing tools and audiences will be determined by an analysis of existing and original market research as needed, and tactics will be geared toward the cultural preferences for the markets in which they are deployed.
Brand USA is in an interesting position. It may deploy a brilliant marketing campaign – to the tune of $200 million annually – and, of course, it has a fabulous product to sell. Usually, those two are enough.
However, there are serious issues that involve the ease of traveling to the U.S. – and getting in. While a visa waiver program has eased travel from 36 visa waiver countries, there remain many large markets not involved in that process. And even once travelers arrive at a U.S. airport, they face long lines and often unpleasant encounters with customs and immigration officials anxious about security concern.
And many of these travelers – Europeans especially – are not used to this kind of hassle as they move around the Continent with few impediments.
Brand USA is working closely with U.S. Travel Association to overcome these obstacles. As Roger Dow, U.S. Travel’s CEO has said, his job is to remove the obstacles while it’s the job of Brand USA to persuade people to come to the U.S. And there have been improvements on the visa front – and some efforts on the airport front. A lot more work is needed.
The stakes are high. International travelers average 16 nights on each visit and spend $4,000 on their trips – making them substantially more valuable than the average domestic traveler.
If Brand USA can move that market share needle only a little bit, it will mean a tremendous impact on the industry here. Brand USA is being headed up by James Evans who, as former CEO of Best Western and once a top sales executive with Hyatt, knows how to market major organizations.
So, everybody, let’s root for the home team.