There’s nothing wrong with it, as far as it goes. Faced with a 30% fall in the USA’s share of international tourism spend in the last decade (from 17% to 11% of the global market) it sets out a target for the next decade – that inbound tourist numbers should grow from last year’s figure of 62 million to 100 million by the end of 2021 – and a number of strategies for making that happen:
- Promoting the United States by capitalizing on the growing demand for travel and tourism in the U.S., creating a positive and welcoming message for international visitors.
- Enabling and enhancing travel and tourism to and within the United States by working to reduce institutional barriers to the free flow of trade in travel services; expanding the Visa Waiver Program; enhancing U.S. visa processing; expanding trusted traveler programs and expediting screening initiatives; and improving the processes for arrival and aviation security screening initiatives while continuing to ensure border security and traveler safety.
- Providing worldclass customer service and visitor experiences that will inspire repeat visitation and positive word-of-mouth.
- Coordinating across government to prioritize its support for travel and tourism, better coordinate Federal policies and programs, engage more deliberately with partners, encourage coordinated Federal participation in public-private tourism collaborations and establish a national travel and tourism office to provide leadership and focus within the federal government.
- Conducting research and measuring results to ensure continual progress on the important goals and strategies outlined in this National Strategy.
The (sometimes confusing) background
Where most countries have a single national tourist organisation with offices or “representation” in key markets around the world, the USA has always been a special case, for pretty obvious reasons of scale and structure. Many state tourism organisations and individual city CVBs (Convention & Visitor Bureau) have operated their own Points of Presence (POP) in overseas countries, leaving national marketing to a succession of organisations that have come and gone as budgets have waxed and waned.
When I started out in travel journalism the USTTA office in London was the national POP for the USA. When it closed, that promotional role fell to associations like VisitUSA, and the TIA (Travel Industry of America), which has recently morphed into the U.S. Travel Association (USTA). Ironically, now in a period of austerity, the U.S. government is busy setting up new federal tourism entities.
The Corporation for Travel Promotion was established by the Travel Promotion Act in 2010 and started work in May last year. Just to confuse everyone, it is no longer called that. If you are in the travel trade, it is Brand USA, if you are a consumer, it is DiscoverAmerica.
Meanwhile, the Task Force on Travel & Competitiveness, comprising a number of government departments and federal organisations, was set up by the White House in January and tasked with creating…
The National Travel & Tourism Strategy, published yesterday.
So what’s wrong with it?
Well nothing, as I said earlier, “as far as it goes”, but for me there are two glaring holes.
Firstly, since the days of the last government tourist organisation (USTTA) there’s been a bit of a revolution on the interweb (sic) yet there are no references to any marketing strategies for the new media age. In fact, if you perform a keyword search for it you’ll only find three passing mentions of “social media” in the whole strategy document, in lists of undefined social media tools that federal bodies have and might deploy.
To put that in co-incidental context, at the same time the Strategy was being published, Deloite’s Head of Travel, Hospitality and Leisure in the UK, Graham Pickett, was telling British travel agents that 86% of overseas and 91% of domestic travel transactions are now ‘digitally influenced’…
The digital age has made a dramatic mark on travel purchases. Consumers have embraced digital media and are increasingly confident about interacting and making purchases online. They are turning to their peers or online communities for advice and to share information and opinions.
Perhaps the White House instructions to the Task Force didn’t require anything but a very broad strategic overview. Details of how the USA is to be promoted could be left up to Brand USA, but you would think there might be some small mention of the importance and influence of social media marketing just to give a ‘steer’ to the industry and those charged with making it happen, wouldn’t you?
Secondly, the White House instructions place particular focus on simplifying entry requirements, entry processes, and expanding Visa Waiver. Consequently the Strategy does cover this subject in detail. So why not, in the light of the new digital age, tackle the old i-visa issue?
Back in the last century a journalist, broadcaster or photographer working freelance or full-time could send off a headed letter from the editor of their news organisation with their application for a journalist i-visa to visit the USA. However the travel media industry has changed significantly since then with more and more freelance travel journalists working independently on one-off jobs for multiple small publications, and more recently the explosive growth of self-publishing travel bloggers.
The U.S. government is not unaware of this.
At virtually every large (Pow Wow, ITB, WTM) or small, industry event over the last decade at which a senior U.S. travel official from Homeland Security, the TSA, the TIA, the USTA, State Dept or DOT, has engaged with the international travel press, this subject has been raised. I know. I’ve been there, or been told about it in my longstanding committee role with the UK’s association of professional travel writers (BGTW.org), and I know many travel journalists have been sadly put off visiting the United States because they don’t want the hassle. There are plenty of easier places in the world to visit.
Freelancers are endlessly seeking U.S. visa advice (short notice press trips are a particular problem) or complaining about rejected applications by ill-informed quasi officials. Now the travel blogging industry is being affected by the same issue, only more so, because bloggers are self-publishers. The universal advice on one of the travel blogger community pages on Facebook in January was: ‘If you are going to the USA, do not mention you are a blogger. Do not mention your accommodation is sponsored. Do not mention the tourism or social media conference you are attending. Do not mention the local CVB is supporting your visit. Do not carry too much camera equipment. Just pretend you are a tourist.’
So if the Strategy goes into micro detail on trusted visitor programs like Global Entry, the number of kiosks and even the immigration queue wait times at entry points, why on earth doesn’t it mention practical tourism promotion issues like the i-visa?
The USA deserves 100 million international visitors annually, but by not addressing the changing nature of global travel media and the growing influence of social media, is the National Travel & Tourism Strategy as effective as it could be? What do you think?
Image: Bigstockphoto/eye full
- 8 August, 2012 @ 8:30 [Current Revision] by Alastair McKenzie
- 11 May, 2012 @ 18:15 by John O'Nolan