US Travel Association promotes tourism's power

WASHINGTON: The US Travel Association will launch a campaign on Thursday to highlight the role the travel and tourism industry plays in the national economy.

WASHINGTON: The US Travel Association will launch a campaign on Thursday to highlight the role the travel and tourism industry plays in the national economy.

“Part of the challenge is that we are seen as the fun industry, but we are also an economic powerhouse,” said Cathy Keefe, manager of media relations at the organization. “We are more than just the vacation industry. We employ nearly 8 million Americans.”

The group will launch the campaign one week after President Barack Obama stood in front of Cinderella's Castle at Disney World in Orlando, FL, and unveiled his plan to boost tourism to the US. That plan includes an executive order speeding visitor visas for Brazil and China.

The White House said more than 1 million jobs could be created over the next decade if the US increases its share of the international travel market.

US Travel's initiative, developed in-house, will also back policies to expand the visa waiver program to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. 

“In Brazil, you have to wait 120 days to get a visa. If you want to go on vacation and have to wait that long, you're going to go to France or Germany,” said Blain Rethmeier, SVP of public affairs at the association. “We're losing out on foreign visitors.”

The campaign has a $5 million budget, including all promotions. The specific budget for PR is undisclosed.

The group is also focusing on boosting business travel to the US and streamlining the Transportation Security Administration airport security process for certain travelers. Research has shown business travelers would take two to three more trips per year if they did not have to go through the TSA process.

The campaign will also target the association's travel coalition, which is made up of individuals whose jobs depend on a strong travel industry, from hotel and rental-car employees to theme park and cruise line workers. This group includes 400,000 consumers, which the group hopes to grow to 1 million this year.  

The organization's media outreach will target Washington stakeholders through publications read frequently by Capitol Hill audiences, such as Politico and The Hill.

The US Travel Association will also display the campaign creative on the VoteTravel.org website and hold rallies later this year in Washington and Los Angeles. It will also buy ad space in airports around the country, and it hopes to have kiosks at the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer.

The group will also use more social media in this campaign than it has before. “We absolutely have to be playing in that social realm. It's where Capitol Hill is listening, and people are engaging,” Rethmeier said.

The organization has grown its Twitter following more than 200% this year through sponsored tweets. That increased presence on Twitter has given the travel association a broader opportunity to get its message across, noted Mindy Finn, head of strategic partnerships in Washington for Twitter.

”By starting early in the year to maximize their reach on Twitter, associations are best positioned to make the greatest impact on the debate this year,” she added.

Between the president's plan and the organization's campaign, “this is the first time the US has had a marketing program geared towards international tourists,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of the Atmosphere Research Group and a travel industry analyst.

“We have relied on states, cities, or airlines to market themselves,” he said. “As opposed to other countries that have travel ministries, we've always said its private enterprises responsibilities to drive tourism.”

The organization will also run search ads on Google as part of the campaign.

“Their issue advocacy campaign is applying the online advertising tactics that effective political campaigns rely upon to not only reach more people, but to reach the right people they are targeting,” said Google political account strategist Robert Saliterman.

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