Brand USA to fight negative perceptions about US travel

Brand USA, the public-private partnership charged with promoting travel to the US, will challenge a range of perceptions about visiting the country when it launches a $200 million integrated campaign next year.

Brand USA, the public-private partnership charged with promoting travel to the US, will challenge a range of perceptions about visiting the country when it launches a $200 million integrated campaign next year.

Once it decides what countries to target, the organization will determine the biggest barriers to US travel, particularly in nations such as Japan, where the US has lost a significant share of the international travel market.

“We want to identify low-hanging fruit, in terms of those people who want to come here and have the means to come here, but for whatever reason haven't,” says Joel Secundy, VP of strategic outreach for Brand USA. “Access barriers are a key reason [for the drop of tourists visiting the US]. Travelers may have the impression that they'll need to wait a long time for a visa or that their visa will be declined for arbitrary reasons.”

While that perception may have once been reality, he notes that the State, Homeland Security, and Commerce departments have addressed the issue over the past two years. Brand USA will reinforce that message, he adds.

“We need to educate travelers on the policies and procedures to coming here, and the fact that it is not as arduous,” says Secundy.

John Gogarty, EVP at Coyne PR, which works with Walt Disney World, Avis, and Days Inn on travel, explains that visa restrictions are often a significant obstacle to US tourism.

“The bigger problem is that it's hard to get to the US with the way the visa laws are set up,” he notes. “They're set up from a security standpoint, which they should be, but they've also hurt tourism over the past decade when it comes to making it easy for folks to travel to the US.”

Secundy points out that the campaign will also attempt to boost the reputation of the US, which took a hit due to terrorism fears and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The US as a country never had to market itself as a destination,” explains Secundy. “We had a pristine reputation and people wanted to come here.”

To bolster the US' reputation abroad, he says the organization will enlist brand ambassadors in targeted nations.

John Deveney, president of Deveney Communications, which has travel sector clients including American Airlines, says a campaign to promote the US as an attractive tourism destination is long overdue.

“The economy all around the globe is on shaky ground, and research tells us that this has had a significant impact on international travel,” he adds. “It hasn't stopped people from traveling outside their borders, but it does have a major impact on how people travel and, most importantly, where they travel to.”

Brand USA is the new name of the entity created by Congress last year to promote the US around the world as a travel destination. Formerly known as the Corporation for Travel Promotion, the group is hoping to boost tourism in the US, which was reportedly flat in the past decade despite the world travel market growing by 60 million people.

It is planning to launch a campaign at the ITB Berlin Travel Show next March that will target consumers in 10 to 15 countries. The effort will likely target Australia, Brazil, China, and parts of Europe, although the list of countries is yet to be finalized. It will also likely include social media, adds Secundy.

“We think social media will absolutely be a vehicle to do that, but everything is on the table right now,” he explains.

Ad agency JWT is creating the campaign, which Hill & Knowlton has also supported. Additionally, the group is planning to hire a director of public affairs and stakeholder communications and then hire an AOR.

State travel departments, which are accustomed to dealing with perception challenges to attract tourists, are applauding the creation of Brand USA. 

“Brand USA has a huge job ahead of it,” Will Seccombe, CMO of Visit Florida, the state's official tourism marketing corporation, tells PRWeek. “But we welcome Brand USA in helping us overcome some of the obstacles around the world to visiting the US.”

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