The board of directors of Brand USA met last week in what they call its performance review meeting, taking stock of how well it is doing its job promoting the United States travel brand internationally.
Midst a wave of charts and bulleted tables, one of the basic measures provided some good news. Said Anne Madison, chief strategy & communications officer, “We believe that overseas visitation grew approximately 4 percent at the same time global international travel increased in 8 percent and long-haul travel increased almost 10 percent.” It’s not quite clear where the four percent came from, although Madison said that Brand USA used data sources other than the U.S. National travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), which announced early last month that it was suspending reports of monthly international arrivals data due to problems with the collection and preparation of information it receives from the Customs and Borders Protection, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.
But, Madison added, “Although we performed better than previously reported compared to the rest of the world … the rest of the world is gaining market share. We are still number one in spend and number two in visitation.”
The real downer for the meeting was provided by the results of Brand USA’s Partner Satisfaction Survey, which provided some less-than-stellar results in the way the agency’s partners rated the agency’s “Clarity in communications,” a rating which also affected the way partners rated Delivery Against Expectations.”
The results chart prompted Madison to observe, “One of the areas that we are really focused on improving is our clarity in communication. I think that part of the challenge has been that you have so many amazing programs across the world that it can be overwhelming for our partners when you throw many different things at them.”
She added, “Karyn’s (Karyn Gruenberg, senior vice president, partner marketing & strategic alliances) team has been hard at work in streamlining their communications and their program options to make things easier to understand.”
Asked for his thoughts on the numbers, Tom Garzilli, Brand USA’s chief marketing officer, said “It’s reflective of a maturing as an organization … We now have partners who have been participating with us for four and five years. So, it’s made us re-focus … We kind of knew going into the year that we needed to look at a lot of this. We’ve kind of reorganized our partner development and partner services team to be able to be closer to partners and to communicate better. We’ve taken a really good look at optimizing our program offerings … to get them to a more manageable number. For a long time, we were about trying to get as much product in the market with as many propositions for partners as we could, and now we’re finding which ones are working better than others and optimizing that.”
“Ultimately, when you look at current participation in our programs,” he added, “we are doing quite well; we still feel really strongly about where we’re going to be, but obviously you have to be thinking about this every day. We just will continue to optimize all of these deliverables.”
John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota and vice chair of the board, asked Madison, how the results broke out based on the size of the organization responding or its status as a public or private sector entity? Madison explained that the pool of respondents to the survey was a cross section, not concentrated in any one sector of membership.
Board Member Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO, Las Vegas CVA, who started out as a researcher for the CVA, had several questions about the size of the sample survey (150 organizations received the survey, with 50 of Brand USA’s roughly 800 partners responding.)
In addressing the problem raised by the survey results, Garzilli noted that “one of the things we’re working looking toward a development of a portal for reporting Here’s what we did and here’s what you’re got We’re working on automating that.”
The Good News: Brand USA used the occasion to announce the results of its ROI survey, indicating that more than 5 million additional visitors visited the United States in the past five years as a result of its marketing and promotional efforts.
The results of the ROI study, conducted by Oxford Economics, showed the significant contributions the organization has on international travel to the USA. Since Fiscal Year 2013 (FY2013) Brand USA’s efforts are directly responsible for increasing international visitation by an incremental 5.4 million travelers who spent $17.7 billion, generating a total economic impact of $38.4 billion, and supported an average of 51,580 incremental jobs per year. Brand USA also provided initial results on the impact of its first film for IMAX® and giant screen theaters, “National Parks Adventure.”
The new economic impact study shows that in Fiscal Year 2017 (FY2017), Brand USA’s marketing campaigns generated 1.16 million incremental international visitors to the United States, with a total economic impact of $8.5 billion, and supporting 54,212 incremental jobs. The results equate to a marketing ROI of 29:1 based on Brand USA’s marketing expenses of $140 million and incremental international visitor spend of $4.1 billion.