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The traditional way for destinations to market themselves is at trade shows, where they can educate tour operators, corporate meeting planners, travel agencies, and others about their offerings. But most international travel is at a standstill. So destination marketing organizations have been attempting to adapt, symbolized by trade fair ITB Asia opening its first virtual trade fair on Wednesday.
Brand USA, the decade-old public-private partnership that acts as the U.S. destination marketing arm, this month launched a website to let it to run virtual trade fairs and do other promotional work.
The “global marketplace” will get its first workout next week during a virtual trade show aimed at European audiences on October 26 to 29. The organization hopes that up to 150 U.S. marketing organizations, transportation services, attractions, hotels, and tour operators will take part.
Like a typical virtual event, the site will offer a mix of live-streamed events and networking sessions during scheduled events.
The digital effort comes at a time of trial for many tourism promotion agencies, given the coronavirus and the related economic shutdown.
“The loss of revenue since March has put many DMOs [destination marketing organizations] in financial peril,” said Kyle Edmiston, president and CEO of the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, at a press conference on Wednesday.
“There’s been no assistance from any of the packages passed through the federal government,” Edmiston said. “Many DMOs have reduced budget and staff.”
Outside of virtual events, Brand USA’s marketplace will showcase the country’s lesser-known itineraries and facilities.
“While this pandemic precipitated the inaugural launch of this global marketplace, this marketplace will have a life beyond the pandemic,” said Christopher L. Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA. “It’ll have an always-on opportunity for our U.S. travel partners to connect with the travel trade, nuture long-standing relationships, and create new ones.”
Edmiston believes the platform will help U.S. destination marketers enhance the efficiency of their meetings with foreign counterparts once in-person travel resumes.
“We’ll be able to do some things virtually that we couldn’t do before, such as meeting tour operators and other potential partners prior to international meetings to determine mutual interest,” Edmiston said. “That will let international meetings be far more effective and efficient. Brand USA will be more important to all the DMOs following this pandemic than at any other time in its ten-year existence.”
Brand USA’s new digital effort won’t exist in a vacuum. Many players have been creating virtual events as substitutes for in-person trade fairs, such as ITB and World Travel Market.