In terms of travel, the United States has fared better than most countries during the pandemic due to the strength of its domestic market.
But with its borders fully open for the first spring and summer since 2019, the United States is now looking to reclaim its share of international travellers, generally seen as the ultimate price of tourism for their tendency to stay longer and spend more. .
As destinations around the United States reopen tourist hotspots and roll out new marketing campaigns to attract these international arrivals, the nation as a whole received a big boost in mid-March when President Biden signed the omnibus spending bill that included the Restoring Brand USA Act, which allocated $250 million in funding to Brand USA, the nation’s tourism marketing arm.
Thanking Congress, Brand USA said the international visitor segment is the most lucrative part of travel and has also been the slowest to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“The funding will allow Brand USA and our partners to restore traveler confidence, drive demand, and accelerate the return of international visits and spending,” he said. “Welcoming the world back will translate directly to economic growth, quality jobs and tax revenue in communities across our great country.”
Work with tour operators and influencers
To do this, Brand USA has pivoted its approach.
Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, said travel and travelers have changed since 2019, and so have the organization’s marketing techniques. As a marketing group, Brand USA has always worked on what it calls the top of the funnel, fueling demand. Now, Thompson said, the desire to travel is there, but the ability to travel is the problem, so Brand USA helps push that intention down the funnel into the consideration and conversion stages.
“We’ve always taken our top-of-funnel responsibility very seriously, which is to inspire intent, fuel intent, and then deliver it,” he said.
Now Brand USA is doing more work beyond that, like engaging in more cooperative marketing with tour operators.
UK-based influencer Josh Denzel worked with Brand USA, reporting from Ohio. Source: USA Brand
“We lend the global American brand capital to the tour operator for the experiences their customers are looking for or want to experience and learn from,” he said.
Thompson said throughout the pandemic, Brand USA’s virtual platforms “have allowed us to stay as engaged as ever with our travel industry partners,” facilitating his new approach.
The organization is also working more with international social media influencers to show destination readiness, Thompson said, which wasn’t something marketers had to think about before. The experiences influencers have in the U.S. and pitch to their followers are “a more compelling way for us to prove we’re ready, instead of just saying we are,” he said. .
And while Thompson is aware the United States isn’t the only destination stepping up its marketing machine as borders open and restrictions fall, he said he believes it’s the pandemic, not competition, which could impede inbound travel.
“The real uncertainty is always about a global pandemic and the world coming out of it and the United States coming out of it,” he said. “The power of the USA brand, the power of the experiences you can only have here, helps us with our ability to compete.”
American cities leap forward
Among the destinations that most hope for success from Brand USA are US cities, which have suffered disproportionately from the lack of international visitors, just as they have always made the most of their spending.
With borders reopening and high expectations that pent-up demand will translate into increased travel, urban markets like New York and Washington are heading into the spring with additional funding and new marketing campaigns.
Destination DC is launching the next iteration of its Experience DC marketing campaign, featuring personalized digital content, video and audio streaming.
Washington in 2019 had reached a visitation record, reaching 24.6 million visitors. While foreign visitors accounted for only 7% of visits, they accounted for 27% of spending.
The city expects around 20 million domestic visitors this year, 87% of its pre-pandemic number, although outbound visits are not expected to reach 2019 levels until 2025. Several of the attractions The city’s most popular attractions will reopen this spring for the first time since early 2020, including the White House and a limited number of United States Capitol tours.
Further up the coast, New York City’s newly elected Mayor Eric Adams was on hand at a NYC & Company event at the Javits Center in late March to launch the “Get Local NYC” campaign, encouraging tourists to visit all five boroughs from the city. .
NYC & Company, the city’s marketing arm, said it expects tourism levels to increase 70% this year and return to 85% of 2019 levels by the end of the year. , including 8 million international visitors. New York had welcomed more than 13.5 million international tourists in 2019, a number that dropped to just 2.4 million in 2020.
Adams has made tourism a key part of his economic recovery plan and has given NYC & Company an additional $10 million in campaign funding.
“My administration is focused on tourism in this city and letting the world know that New York is back,” Adams said. “Our hospitality and tourism industry has long been an engine of economic prosperity that impacts all New Yorkers.”