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28 Oct, 2013

Brand USA faces tough media barrage at ITB Asia

SINGAPORE, 23 Oct 2013 – The Brand USA delegation at the ITB Asia press conference faced a barrage of questions about visa delays, lengthy CIQ queues, the U.S. government shutdown, shootings in public places and the impact of superhero Hollywood movies on the country’s “image”.

Although Mr Jay Gray, Vice President of Global Partnership Development for Brand USA, tried to put up the best front, the queries are a growing indicator of how America’s foreign and domestic geopolitical and economic issues are affecting its global image.

It is also symptomatic of a turning of the tables in the new emerging world order. U.S. travel journalists were once at the forefront of asking tourism authorities in Asian countries, especially those with majority Muslim populations, about safety & security related issues. Now, the U.S. is facing the same music, and having to dodge, duck, explain and justify its own perception problems in almost identical language.

The first of many at ITB Asia 2013, the heavily promoted press conference was accompanied by a sumptuous buffet lunch. It was introduced with a superb video song, “Land of Dreams”, by Rosanne Cash, daughter of American music legend Johnny Cash.

At the heart of Brand USA’s first global campaign, it reflected images of American life, landscapes and experiences. The cultural imagery showed two Indian-featured men playing a tabla and a sitar in the music ensemble, and two girls wearing the Islamic hijab in an urban setting.

Mr. Gray said the intent is to “send a welcoming message that combines the best of both the iconic as well as off-the-beaten-path destinations. You don’t see a lot of red-white-and-blue, chest-beating USA advertising.” Various versions of the ad are running in China, the UK, Japan and Canada.

Mr. Gray noted that the Obama Administration had set up the country’s first travel marketing and promotion agency in order to fill the void of the U.S. being probably the only developed country not to have one, costing the U.S. market share even though global tourism had been rising steadily. Now, he said the unit has offices in 15 countries.

The launch presence at ITB Asia was in line with the focus on Asia, an important market and set to become even more important. Japan is forecast to soon replace the UK as the U.S. top source of visitors and be further replaced thereafter by China. In addition, the U.S. is reporting increased visitors from Singapore and the Philippines.

Mr. Gray said this is the first year that U.S. has sponsored a pavilion at ITB Asia and that the range of products were a great representation of the diversity of the U.S. He promised a much bigger presence next year.

Speakers from the Florida, New York City, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, all gave presentations, highlighting their products, increased visitor arrivals and the importance that their respective destinations attribute to tourism, both domestic and international.

Mr. Gray called it a perfect start. He said doing business in Asia was all about relationships, being on the ground and creating one-on-one contacts. “You have to be in the market. My job is to create demand but once I do that, I need someone (in the trade) to hand them over.”

The first question was about the long visa application process. Mr. Gray stressed that Brand USA is only the marketing arm and “we really don’t work on the policy side of things.” He complimented the State Department for having “done a phenomenal job in reducing wait times,” especially in places such as Brazil, where it had been cut from three months to two days. “Our job is only to communicate these improvements. Frequently, what you hear about the visa process and the reality is not the same.”

These pictures of the Brand USA Pavilion indicate the level of business interest that was largely the rule throughout the three-day show.

Next question was about lengthy CIQ queues at U.S. international airports and the perception of an unwelcome arrival. Again, the answer was more or less the same as the above with the addendum that the efforts were being made to learn from the experience Disneyworld amusement parks about how to manage queues. “And who knows how to manage queues better than anyone than Disney.”

Third question was about the impact of the U.S. government shutdown: “In travel & tourism, one is constantly faced with new challenges all the time. The national parks being shut down was probably the biggest impact.” Further details were referred to representative of the Grand Canyon, the U.S.’  best known national park. She provided a surprising twist; because the park is privately funded, it was open all the time and picked up a lot of diversionary business from the shutdown parks.

Fourth question: How effective the “Land of Dreams” ad clip would be when Hollywood, the biggest shaper of the U.S. image globally, had produced over the years a string of American superhero movies portraying exactly the kind of red-white-and-blue, chest-beating image the “Land of Dreams” was trying to counter?  Answer: It cannot be denied that Hollywood is one of the U.S.’ biggest exports and while it does make movies such as “Captain America” and “Iron Man”, it also makes movies such as “Sleepless In Seattle”. “Our message now is if you have seen the movie, come visit the set.”

Fifth question: Safety of tourists as a result of shootings in U.S. shopping malls, workplaces and public areas: Answer: “These shootings are somewhat unfortunate and create misperceptions about the U.S. Statistically, the U.S. is one of the safest destinations to travel. All across the U.S. and especially in the cities, crime rates have dropped. The shootings are isolated cases and reporting on them needs to be put into perspective.”

A number of visits to the Brand USA pavilion area indicated that it was largely quiet throughout the three-day show, except for the Las Vegas booth. The accompanying photographs were taken between 1400-1415 hours on the first day of the show. The business atmosphere remained about the same all the way.

Excerpts from the media releases issued by the Brand USA campaign

23rd October 2013, Singapore – Brand USA is the first ever unified international marketing organization with USD $125 million in funding, promoting premier travel to the United States, including all 50 states, District of Columbia and 5 territories of USA.

From October 23-25 2013, Brand USA will make its inaugural debut at ITB Asia Singapore, bringing with it the largest turn out of USA exhibitors at the country’s pavilion. The major American presence at this leading trade show will see exhibitors including Florida, Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco, Caesars Entertainment, Grand Canyon, Universal Orlando, Utah’s Canyon Country and Tour America.

The economies of South-East Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, have been enjoying stable and consistent growth, which has seen outbound travel to the U.S. growing by 5% to 10% in various markets. Singapore, which serves as a gateway to the emerging region, is an English-speaking market whose citizens enjoy visa waiver (or visa upon arrival) to 161 countries, including the USA. Singapore’s 5 million residents make over 8 million outbound trips annually, representing almost 2 trips per year for each person.

“The South-East Asian market is an emerging but rapidly growing one, and we are experiencing a consistent demand for travel to the U.S.. ITB Asia in Singapore represents for us a key channel through which we reach out to this increasingly discerning audience seeking a unique and memorable travel experience. We are confident that our inaugural debut here will make a positive and lasting impression,” said Christopher L. Thompson, President and CEO, Brand USA.

Brand USA at ITB Asia

Brand USA will develop a series of ITB Asia activities during the travel fair to further strengthen tourism marketing efforts in South East Asia:

•             An official opening ceremony of the USA Pavilion will celebrate the significant presence of U.S. destinations at ITB Asia with U.S. industry leaders and selected media organizations.

•             Brand USA will be inviting wholesalers, tour operators, retail agents and online travel agencies from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to the  ‘Taste of USA’ Travel Trade Lunch Seminar to explore business opportunities and share new U.S. itineraries.

•             To fully engage with Asian buyers, Brand USA is launching advertising campaigns across print, broadcast, digital and social media in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore the last quarter of 2013.

•             Brand USA will be partnering with TTG Asia Media to produce a series of three 6-page Brand USA supplements. These will be distributed daily during the three-day trade show in Singapore, serving as a promotional platform for US tourism suppliers.

The USA Pavilion and related activities at ITB Asia 2013 is a part of the Brand USA Asia Sales Mission, covering Taiwan, Hong Kong and South East Asia.

About the Brand USA campaign

23rd October 2013 – A land where anything and everything is possible, a place that is more than just a destination, the United States of America is replete with experiences and cultures awaiting all visitors. For the first time ever, the country is united together under the leadership of Brand USA to introduce campaigns in the Asian market in the fourth quarter of 2013.

In line with its overall marketing strategy, Brand USA aims to showcase attractions and “off the beaten path” experiences from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories. These adventures articulate the richness of experiences to be found in America and embrace the following four pillars: Great Outdoors, Urban Excitement, Indulgence and Culture.

“As the first ever unified international marketing organization that promotes premier travel to the United States, Brand USA is a cohesive and compelling initiative that captures the multifaceted richness of experiences that await travellers. It showcases the USA in a refreshing new light, as a place with endless possibilities across the vast landscape. Brand USA encapsulates the best of what this country has to offer, while showing how easy it is to travel here,” said Christopher L. Thompson, President and CEO, Brand USA.