Tourism Industry Wants National Marketing Corp. To Boost U.S.

The tourism industry wants the federal government to create a national marketing corporation to promote the United States to international travelers.

Tourism is worth $546 billion to the U.S. economy; $103 billion comes from international tourists. International tourists spend more money and stay longer. But the United States is the only Western country without a tourism marketing organization. International tourism has fallen 24% since 1996, when the U.S. shuttered a small, underfunded agency in the Department of Commerce.

The United States is third behind France and Spain as the top tourist destinations. The tourism industry thinks the government ought to start marketing the country as a single destination, freeing individual destinations to make more efficient use of their promotional dollars.

“A tourism marketing corporation would be a great investment for the United States,” said Elyse Wander, SVP of believing that government affairs at the Travel Industry Association. TIA has been pushing hard for the creation of a public-private partnership that would match federal and private funds for advertising and other foreign promotion.

Most everyone in the tourism industry, whether it’s a trade group like TIA or individual destinations and states, say they don’t have enough money to promote the U.S. in what is an expensive and tough foreign market.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority stretches its marketing dollars by advertising in trade publications, boosting its Internet sites and hosting foreign media who use Las Vegas as a backdrop for domestic shows. TIA has done some targeted foreign advertising: A monthlong campaign in Japanese subway cars, Sunday newspaper supplements in the United Kingdom, and trade shows from Japan to Brazil and Mexico. It’s not enough, Wander said.

“It’s small in comparison to what Canada and the UK are doing,” she said.

The Canadian Tourism Commission spends $85 million a year marketing Canada worldwide. The Canadian government considers tourism key to its economy and partnered with the tourism industry to build the brand Canada, said Susan Iris, U.S. managing director.

Canada’s marketing campaign includes placements in newspapers, consumer magazines and trade journals aimed at enticing travel agents and tour operators to steer international travelers toward Canada. There’s an extensive Internet component yet limited TV. The message: Canada’s the place to spend your vacation. Individual provinces and destinations then pick up the message, trying to entice the foreign visitor to stop there.

That’s the way it might work in the United States, too.

“Anything that promotes U.S. tourism would have a domino effect,” said Erika Brandvik, spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

California Tourism, a public-private partnership between the state Division of Tourism and the California Travel and Tourism Commission, is among the many U.S. destinations that doesn’t have the money to market itself internationally. Caroline Beteta, executive director of California Tourism, said

“We need the strength, particularly internationally, of having that awareness of the United States as a premier tourist destination,” she said. “If they [foreign visitors] never consider the U.S., we don’t have a shot at them in California.”

But a national tourism corporation still faces significant hurdles, not the least of which is the fact that the federal government doesn’t seem interested.

“We’ve been trying for years,” said Bob Whitley, president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association. He’s fought the battle for 33 years and has seen many proposals defeated in Washington. “No matter whether it’s Democrat or Republican, it’s never been a top priority,” Whitley said.

But with a weak economy and last year’s terrorist attacks, Whitley said the federal government needs to invest the money to help the tourism industry.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” said the TIA’s Wander. “The biggest challenge is getting a federal commitment. It’s a darn shame that we’re the only Western country that doesn’t do it.”

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