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What can help turn inbound travel headwinds into a potential perfect storm for the U.S. travel industry?
A combination of high currency values, an unstable political situation, and a constant barrage of bad news coming out of the U.S., according to Brand USA.
Several of the destination marketing organization’s internal metrics for travel intent are showing signs of weakness, causing the group to revise its forecasts, said its leadership in a board of directors meeting last week.
Brand USA’s measurement of intent to travel to the U.S. grew only one percent from 2015 to 2016, to 60 percent, and missed its stated annual goal of 67 percent by a large margin.
“We’re [acting] in a protectionist capacity here,” said Barbara Richardson, chair of Brand USA’s marketing committee regarding its intent to visit metric. “For 2017 we’re going to be looking more to maintain [current levels rather than grow]… It’s as important to maintain and protect the intent to visit since we’ve increased it… This is something thats harder and harder to do [the higher you can drive intent].”
Brand USA’s consumer net promoter score, which measures consumer brand loyalty, also slid; it now rests at 44.1 percent in 2016, close to its 2013 total of 43.4 percent.
What’s causing this decline? Brand USA’s research team thinks the high value of the dollar is mostly to blame, and that the election of Donald Trump as President is beginning to be a factor as well.
“As we go into 2017, we’re facing a number of headwinds; the most important one continues to be currency,” said Carroll Rheem, vice president of research and analytics at Brand USA. “In a similar fashion to intent to visit, it is driven by a lot of things that are simply out of our control. If you look at which markets are flipping, it correlates to those where the dollar has appreciated the most.”
Rheem said that Mexico and Germany are the two countries that have had the most negative reaction to recent U.S. political news, while Asia and Europe overall have not shown decreased desire to travel to the U.S. She also said that the value of the Mexican peso relative to the dollar could have the most severe impact on inbound U.S. tourism, since Mexico is expected to account for the largest volume of international travel to the U.S. by any country in coming years.
“There are in certain markets some early indicators of reactions, the way we have tested this is more specifically in reaction to media coverage because it really shapes what travelers in these markets are thinking,” said Rheem.
She also said there are no plans to change Brand USA’s marketing strategy overall, although campaigns will be timed to not coincide with any upcoming newsworthy events, like the U.S. presidential inauguration in January.
There is still a bit of good news for Brand USA, particularly regarding its engagement in Asia. Chinese tourism to the U.S. has continued to grow, despite tension now developing between the two countries on the geopolitical stage. Chinese travelers still only represent a small chunk of inbound U.S. travel volume, however.
“Travel from China to the U.S. continues to show double digit growth, with 2.6 million Chinese visitors traveling to the U.S. in 2015,” said Kelly Craighead, head of the National Travel & Tourism Organization. “These visitors spent $30.1 billion in 2015. There’s a projection for 2020 that that number can grow up to 5 million in [visitors].”