Brand USA, the national destination marketing organization for the United States, may have nine lives.
During a marketing committee conference call Wednesday, Brand USA executives downplayed the prospect that its existence would be terminated despite a provision in the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal that called for its funding to be killed. Over the years, Brand USA has also been the target of conservative budget hawks.
However, each Congressional subcommittee that has discussed Brand USA’s inclusion in the budget has supported the organization and voted to keep Brand USA fully funded, said Christopher Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA.
Prior to the Trump budget proposal, Brand USA had been reauthorized and funded through 2020, said Anne Madison, chief strategy and communications officer. She added that the organization has received tremendous support from the travel industry.
“The president’s budget is a statement of priorities and the power of purse lies in hands of Congress,” said Madison during the call. “We feel very confident about our future.”
The fiscal 2018 budget is slated to be voted on this fall and given ongoing gridlock in Congress, it’s unclear if and when Brand USA’s funding would clear the final hurdle.
In addition to the existential threat from the White House, the organization is also dealing with a decline in international arrivals to the U.S. in 2016, which has continued into this year.
Despite a budget battle and various marketing challenges this year, the organization is seeing light on the horizon. Partner contributions, which were initially down during the first four months of 2017, will exceed the organization’s goal of $100 million by the end of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30, said Tom Garzilli, chief marketing officer. Garzilli said this is the fifth year that Brand USA has exceeded its partner cash and in-kind contributions goal of $100 million.
Assuming Brand USA escapes its budget battle unscathed and fully funded during its next fiscal year, it plans to spend less and get more creative with what resources and products it already has, said Garzilli. “We want to focus less on agencies and production cost,” he said.
Brand USA has its budget set at $155.2 million for fiscal 2018. Getting smarter with how it spends its money on marketing the U.S. is also part of the game plan for next year, said Garzilli.
To that point, the organization realizes that a one-size-fits all approach, such as using the same platforms in each overseas market, isn’t feasible if it wants to meet its visitor and spending goals.
“We’ve really figured out the center of gravity with media in each market, said Barbara Richardson, chair of the Brand USA marketing committee and the chief of external relations for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “In a nutshell, we no longer will be treating Canada and India the same, for example.”
Of course, Brand USA should have had the wherewithal since day one to know that marketing messages have to be fine-tuned by region.
Getting more targeted with its marketing will help it focus more on influencer and micro-influencer marketing, for example, that drive attention to its website trip-planning content, said Garzilli.
Brand USA is still focused on its goal of helping attract 100 million international arrivals and $256 billion in spending to the U.S. per year by 2021, although it’s aware it could have difficulty meeting the arrivals portion of the goal. –
International travelers spent $247.1 billion in the U.S. last year. The National Travel & Tourism Office has revised its projections and estimates downward, now saying that 94.1 million international travelers will visit the U.S. per year by 2021 — and that’s short of Brand USA’s goal.
Of course, the Trump administration’s anti-foreigner rhetoric has been a headwind.
The organization’s board meeting next week should provide more color on its outlook for specific countries in 2018, and how it plans to adapt its campaigns and operations in light of the revised international arrivals forecast.
Hurricane Irma Impact
Brand USA is still assessing the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey on the U.S. mainland and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, said Madison.
“During situations like this, we stop our promotional messaging when our partners stop their promotional messaging,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re doing this in a sensitive way.”
Thompson, who was previously CEO of Visit Florida, said he’s witnessed many hurricanes but nothing like Hurricane Irma. “Recovery is a very local thing in hurricanes,” said Thompson. “We’re still figuring out when to put the ‘we’re open for business’ message out there for some of these destinations.”
For more updates from the travel industry on Hurricane Irma, check out our live updates here.