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The Route 66 angle is one of the few that could get foreign travelers interested St. Louis.
Now you go through Saint Looey
and Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Don’t forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.
— From “Route 66,” written by Bobby Troup
Whatever. Just be glad that the lore of Route 66 might help a new promotional campaign to draw more foreign tourists to St. Louis.
That effort focuses on the Big Three — Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom — that produce the most foreign tourism in St. Louis. About 87,000 travelers from those countries visited the area in 2013, according to the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which helped pay for the two-minute videos that make up the new promotion.
Part of the effort is to get more foreign tourists to linger in St. Louis while following old Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Such trips already are popular with German and British visitors, said Brian Hall, the CVC’s chief marketing director.
Though the number of foreign tourists is a speck within the area’s visitor business (21.6 million annual visitors who spent $4.2 billion last year), tourists from outside the United States are cash-heavy, dropping about $4,000 per trip, Hall said.
“We want to tap into that, for obvious reasons,” he said.
To help in that effort, Brand USA has stepped in. The group, a public-private partnership backed by the tourism industry and the U.S. government, promotes foreign tourism.
Earlier this month, Brand USA produced promotional videos geared to residents of Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
A woman from Toronto, who lives now in Los Angeles, is the host of the St. Louis video meant for Canadians. A woman from East Sussex, England, who lives in Richmond, Va., hosts the video for the United Kingdom, while a Mexico City native hosts the Spanish-language video for the Mexican audience even though she, too, lives in LA.
The same hosts also appear in Brand USA videos that promote other U.S. cities to foreign travelers.
“It’s a bit of a templated program,” Hall said.
Foreign viewers will see the speakers highlight St. Louis’ blues heritage while at the Broadway Oyster Bar downtown; show off the scene on Cherokee Street; point out places linked to Route 66; visit St. Charles and; of course, gaze at the Arch.
“The Gateway Arch is our Eiffel Tower and our Statue of Liberty,” Hall said. “The Arch symbolizes Americana.”
Promotional videos can be “very effective” if they are available through social media on computers and smartphones, said Rich Harrill, acting director of the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management at the University of South Carolina.
“The branding, if it’s well-done … will present a mental association of St. Louis that is positive,” he said.
While most foreigners know about New York, Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla., because of Disney World, few have an impression of St. Louis beyond, perhaps, a mental image of the Arch, Harrill said.
The videos, scheduled to be ready for distribution next month, will be on Brand USA’s website and YouTube. They also will be used in targeted email campaigns and will be pitched heavily to tour companies.
The CVC contributed $6,400 toward the cost of making the videos, with additional funding by the state of Missouri and St. Charles.
David Baker, associate professor of hospitality at the University of Central Missouri, said reaching tour promoters in Europe is key to increasing foreign tourism in the Midwest.
“If you’re not in with those tour operators, it will be very difficult to get tourists to come to this part of the country,” he said.
As an older American city, St. Louis appeals to Europeans who appreciate history, Baker added.
The area also has other aspects that could draw foreign tourists.
South Carolina’s Harrill said St. Louis would be smart to tie its foreign tourism effort to its growing tech industry.
A combined effort aimed at China, Brazil and other countries with a growing business class could produce an economic development effect greater than just tourism, Harrill said.
Camila Clark, a Brand USA spokeswoman, said her organization has produced foreign tourism videos in every state.
In addition to making videos in St. Louis, a Brand USA crew is doing similar work in Kansas City and six other Missouri cities: Ste. Genevieve, Carthage, Cape Girardeau, Hannibal, Springfield and Branson.
Hall said that while most Canadian and Mexican visitors arrive in St. Louis by car, Europeans typically visit the Midwest as part of organized tours. Many fly to New York or Chicago to begin bus journeys that can last weeks. He said the just-shot videos will have a long shelf life in the targeted countries.
“They’ll be out there for at least two or three years,” he said.
Down the road, so to speak, St. Louis videos for China and Japan, might be produced, Hall said. The Asian countries already are St. Louis’ fourth- and fifth-largest sources of foreign visitors, he said.