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Brand USA: Selling America’s Tourism Products to the World

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Brand USA is the public-private partnership responsible for promoting the United States as a premier travel destination and communicating U.S. entry policies and procedures. Established by the Travel Promotion Act in 2010, the organization’s mission is to increase international visitation to the United States while working in partnership with the travel industry to maximize the economic and social benefits of travel. These benefits include creating jobs essential to the economy and fostering understanding between people and across cultures.

The program’s activities are funded at no cost to U.S. taxpayers through a combination of private-sector investment and matching funds collected by the U.S. Government from international visitors from 38 countries who come to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.

A Strong, Unified Voice

The U.S. tourism industry faces a massive challenge given the scale that international marketing requires. Collaborative destination marketing effectively deals with this challenge by representing a fragmented tourism industry as a single product to a common customer.

Marketing efforts that focus on only one sub-sector of the visitor market, such as communicating the offering of a specific hotel or other business, do not also adequately address the core motivation for potential visitors.

Through coordinated, long-term destination promotion by a national level destination marketing organization such as Brand USA, demand can be driven for all segments of the visitor economy. Stand-alone marketing efforts would almost certainly be less effective than a collective destination marketing campaign.

A National Goal

It’s a big job to invite the world to visit the U.S.A. Partnerships are at the heart of Brand USA’s strategy to welcome 100 million annual visitors by 2021. Here are highlights of what’s been accomplished by working in tandem with 500 leading organizations inside and outside the U.S. and global travel industry.

  • Established marketing initiatives in more than 30 international markets, including in-market representation in 20 markets
  • Expanded consumer marketing campaigns to 10 key markets that generate 80% of potential U.S. visitors. Campaigns include “Great Outdoors” and “Culinary” initiatives; USA travel guides in 10 languages; multi-channel programs featuring print, digital and out-of-home (OOH) messaging; video development; international search engine marketing campaigns; and preferred relationships with media partners including Travelzoo, Expedia and TripAdvisor
  • Grew Brand USA’s digital presence to include 45 channels in 10 languages, combined with a social community that generated 40 million social engagements during 2014
  • Keeping administrative costs to approximately 10% a year, ensuring the vast majority of budget is spent on marketing the USA

And the Results Speak Loudly

According to a 2014 analysis by Oxford Economics, Brand USA’s marketing efforts have generated the following return on investment over the last two years.

  • 2 million incremental visitors
  • $6.5 billion in incremental spending
  • 50,000 incremental jobs supported annually
  • Nearly $2 billion in federal, state and local taxes
  • Almost $15 billion in total economic impact
  • The U.S. gained 0.3% of market share from Brand USA’s focus markets during 2014.

What’s Happening Locally?

Maryland’s travel industry, led by the Maryland Office of Tourism, is a long-term partner in the Capital Region USA (CRUSA), a regional destination marketing organization promoting Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia as a unified travel destination for overseas visitors. Focus markets include China, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Brazil.

Overseas visitors stay longer and spend more money in the Capital Region than visitors from the U.S. In 2014, a record 2.34 million overseas travelers visited the Capital Region USA, stayed an average of nine nights and spent a record $1.9 billion on hotels, meals, shopping, attractions and other goods and services across Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. These overseas visitors helped to generate nearly 35,000 jobs throughout the Capital Region.

In 2015, CRUSA invested $573,000 in Brand USA marketing initiatives. By partnering with Brand USA, CRUSA was able to extend its reach with in-kind funding by $115,000, generating a marketing budget of $688,000. These funds were invested in overseas search engine marketing, travel guides in five languages, videos in German and French promoting the region’s scenic byways, cooperative marketing activities with tour operators and digital initiatives in China.

Matt Gaffney is president and CEO of Capital Region USA (CRUSA). He can be reached at 443-994-1862.