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Los Angeles’ tourism industry may be riding the coattails of the “two-hour advertisement for Los Angeles” that is the Academy Award-winning film “La La Land,” said Discover Los Angeles CMO Don Skeoch. But the city is also doubling down on its message that it’s a welcoming and inclusive place to visit to help combat negative perceptions of the United States from President Trump’s travel ban and the U.S. political climate.
This week, Discover Los Angeles, the city’s destination marketing organization, will launch its “Everyone is Welcome” multi-million dollar global marketing campaign that focuses on reaching primarily millennial travelers in five international markets — Mexico, Canada, China, Australia, and the UK — as the city projects weaker growth in international visitation during the next three years if President Trump’s current rhetoric and policies continue.
International arrivals in Los Angeles are still projected to climb through 2019 but that growth won’t be as steep if policies such as the six-country travel ban remain in effect and negative opinions of the U.S. grow (see charts below).
Discover Los Angeles expected to hit 7.4 to 7.5 million international visitors in 2017 before the November 2016 election. Skeoch said the organization, using Tourism Economics data, altered its projections recently and expects 2017 international visitor totals (seven million) to be virtually unchanged from 2016. Tourism Economics projects the city could potentially lose 830,000 international visitors during the next three years which breaks down to about 240,000 arrivals this year, nearly 300,000 next year and about 290,000 in 2019.
International travelers in Los Angeles, on average, spend $1,000 per trip. “That’s about $800 million of potential lost tourism dollars over three years, said Skeoch. “More specifically, that’s $35 million in tourism tax revenue lost. No one wants to see those funds dry up and it’s really critical for us to try to mitigate the situation.”
Los Angeles Visitor Forecast January 2017
With Exec Orders/travel ban (in millions)
|Total International Visits||6.52||6.84||7.08||7.09||7.33||7.63|
Los Angeles Visitor Forecast January 2017
Without Exec Orders/travel ban (in millions)
|Total International Visits||6.52||6.84||7.08||7.33||7.63||7.93|
*Denotes projected international arrivals totals.
Source: Tourism Economics
GETTING THE MESSAGE RIGHT
Getting involved in the culture wars, which this campaign is in part responding to, is a slippery slope and has backfired for some brands that had good intentions. Discover Los Angeles’ “Everyone is Welcome” one-minute, 30-second campaign video (watch below), however, doesn’t feature any protestors or demonstrations but does highlight locals with disabilities, various racial backgrounds and sexual orientations, for example.
Everyone in the video appears natural and blends into the background of the city all while showing that these are the lives they live in Los Angeles and that they’re accepted.
Skeoch said the organization isn’t trying to be political with the campaign and instead approached the U.S. political climate as a business problem that needs to be addressed. “Someone has to take a leadership role because people think that safety and security are mutually exclusive,” he said. “They’re not. They’re complimentary but people take different positions there.”
Appearing tone-deaf in the campaign isn’t a concern with the video, said Skeoch. “We watched this spot over and over and over and I’d say we overanalyzed it,” he said. “We kept saying to our agency, Mistress, it’s got to be authentic. It will not read well if it’s not authentic.”
At the same time, the campaign’s aim isn’t to hide the reality that the U.S. is in a period of deep political divide and uncertainty or to advocate one position or the other, although the video ends with the message of “we welcome everyone” in eight languages including Arabic, Spanish and Japanese.
“I think what needs to be reinforced is that what you see in this spot and what you see when you come cannot be vastly different,” said Skeoch. “If you saw it and you were hanging around Venice you’d have to say ‘yeah, this is pretty accurate to what I’m experiencing as a visitor.'”
While local Angelenos are the stars of the video, such as two African American women doing yoga on a beach or a gay couple holding hands, there’s another noticeable character — a paper airplane.
“If we didn’t have the paper airplanes as a metaphor, this wouldn’t have read as a tourism spot,” said Skeoch. “Our challenge was how do you tie diversity and open-mindedness to tourism? A paper airplane is a symbol of innocence and we start the video with a Mexican boy who might have aspirations to travel to Los Angeles.”
Everyone is Welcome — Especially Millennials
The six-week campaign will wrap-up at the end of May and will play out as digital and social advertising on platforms including Facebook, for example, which the organization chose because that’s a growing news source for millennials.
The video will run through paid boosts on Facebook and Instagram and will also appear on WeChat and Weibo in China. Skeoch said the organization expects to receive more than 100 million impressions with this campaign and more than half of the millennial (18 to 35) population in the five markets are expected to see the video at least three times.
Discover Los Angeles held focus groups last year in Vancouver, Mexico City, London, Shanghai, Beijing, and Sydney with millennial travelers to learn about their interest in travel and what would make them choose Los Angeles as a destination. “We learned that a millennial is a millennial is a millennial,” said Skeoch. “We thought someone in London would be different than someone in Shanghai. In terms of travel, they behave very similarly. We found that it’s our lifestyle and mindset in Los Angeles that appeals to them.”
The tourism board will also roll out a video for industry trade partners from CEO Ernest Wooden Jr that will be subtitled in Arabic, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, and Traditional and Simplified Chinese for each respective market.
International Travelers’ U.S. Concerns
Millions of marketing dollars are unlikely to erase many international travelers’ fears of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Administration officers in light of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.
Tourism boards don’t have jurisdiction over airports and immigration — two factors that have many international travelers spooked. “That doesn’t mean we’re not concerned with visitors’ guest experiences whether that’s at the airport or moving around the market,” said Skeoch.
Skeoch said his team is particularly worried about losing market share from gulf markets such as the U.A.E. and also from Mexico, the latter more of a consumer sentiment, he said. “People may have sentiments towards the U.S. but that doesn’t mean they have negative sentiments towards Los Angeles,” he said.
Los Angeles also had the largest number of Chinese visitors of any U.S. city in 2016 (1.01 million) but China and India aren’t a concern for potential decreased market share, Skeoch said. A recent survey from Brand USA, for example, found that Chinese travelers were the only market more likely to visit the U.S. because of the political climate. “With the La La Land effect we’re finding some markets, and especially China, want to do precisely what they saw in the movie.”
Discover Los Angeles isn’t the first tourism board to roll out a marketing campaign to promote diversity and inclusiveness since the 2016 election. NYC & Company, which is also forecasting slower growth in international arrivals for 2017, has updated overseas billboard advertisements with “Welcoming the World” messaging and creative.
Los Angeles’ campaign, however, will likely reach more travelers because of the campaign’s social and digital focus on platforms they frequently use.
The city also has another advantage in its effort to portray itself as a welcoming, tolerate and progressive place with its general liberal reputation and the fact that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won California by more than million votes in the general election. But not every city has what Los Angeles can claim — residents from 140 countries who speak some 224 languages making it one of only two U.S. cities without a majority population.
And being one of the major gateways into the U.S. makes it easier for the city to have this message. Los Angeles faces a loss in arrivals from nearby Mexico, an economy that’s increasingly improving as more Mexicans choose Canada for their vacations this year, and it’s one of the nearest U.S. gateways for Asia-Pacific markets that it can’t afford to lose as outbound travel from the region swells.
Watch the full video from the campaign below.
Update: below is the second video in the campaign released in May 2017 that ran on Facebook.