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When it comes to attracting international visitors, the U.S. has few allies and it is every country for itself. Our answer to the challenge is Brand USA on a federal level, and it remains to be seen whether it will be more effective than state and city destination marketing organizations doing it all on their own.
Brand USA, the official marketing arm of U.S. tourism, aims to trigger $100 million in federal matching funds in 2013 as it pushes its goal of increasing the country’s global-tourism market share, and points toward 100 million visitors entering the country’s borders by 2021.
U.S. market share of global tourism, as measured in share of long-haul flights stood at 17% in 2000, but was down to 12.4% in 2011, and the two-year-old Brand USA is charged with helping to execute a turnaround.
With 66.5 million international visitors arriving in the U.S. in 2012, Brand USA has its hands full in trying to capture an increased share of travelers from emerging markets such as India and China. Brand USA will have to make some breakthroughs if the U.S. is to cross that 100 million annual visitor threshold within eight years.
Brand USA has just released its 2013 marketing plan, and the organization states that it envisions increasing its private contributions from $60 million in 2012 to $100 million in 2013, which would trigger a 1:1 match by the federal government of another $100 million.
That was, of course, until sequestration came along.
The Office of Management Budget has calculated that Brand USA’s federal matching funds would be reduced 5.1% to around $95 million because of mandatory budget trims spurred by the sequestration.
Still, Brand USA lays out some ambitious plans for 2013, covering everything from becoming a sponsor of the World Baseball Classic to initiating new marketing campaigns (in Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Mexico and South Korea), and increasing its social media profile.
After taking some vicious hits from Congressional Republicans about allegedly excessive spending on travel reimbursements and its sponsorship of a glitzy event at the British National Maritime Museum late in 2011, Brand USA’s 2013 plan calls for implementing a new accounting and financial reporting system.
Brand USA intends to get its spending in gear as it vows to keep its overhead to a maximum of 15%, but it is not backing off from plans to ramp up its presence at conferences and trade shows around the world. Among its goals:
“Continue to expand the USA’s presence at international trade shows as measured by year over year increases in U.S. exhibitor participation (target 15% or higher per show per year).”
In fact, Brand USA says it intends to keep its expenses well below the 15% mark in 2013.
“As a young organization (just now in its second year of operation), we operate efficiently and with a focus on results,” says Anne Madison, a Brand USA spokesperson. “From an efficiency standpoint, you might be interested in knowing that we kept overhead to 12% last year—and we expect to operate at the same or lower percentage this year.”
It’s difficult to measure how successful Brand USA’s marketing campaigns have been to date.
In a preliminary report released in September 2012, Brand USA indicated that “intent to visit” climbed 13 points in Canada, 17 points in the UK, and 11 points in Japan as the result of the organization’s initial marketing campaigns.
The goal is to increase that travel intent in those markets by 5% in 2013, and to reach 10% intent-to-travel levels in launch markets Australia, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, and South Korea.
But, how effectively does “intent to travel” translate into real-life visitors actually staying in U.S. hotels, dining in restaurants, and taking roller coaster rides at Florida and California theme parks?
Federal agencies monitoring Brand USA’s progress and cost-effectiveness are obviously interested in the answer, too.
Brand USA states that one of its goals in 2013 is to establish appropriate metrics with federal agencies and tracking progress, especially when it comes to “joint promotional efforts” about U.S. entry requirements.
Brand USA knows its activities will be intensely scrutinized by budget hawks on Capitol Hill, and it is taking steps to ward off their attacks.