Brand USA’s future in limbo

As the Trump Administration deals with court set-backs over its travel bans, America’s tourism industry is monitoring uncertainty on another front as the country’s peak tourism body falls into the President’s sights.

Amid other surprise decisions by Trump since taking office in January, the President dropped a bombshell in late May when he called for an end to funding for Brand USA.

His Federal Budget proposal would terminate the government’s investment the seven-year-old organisation, a move the administration claims would reduce America’s deficit by US$510 million over three years. That revenue would instead go towards customs & border protection efforts.

Unsurprisingly, the suggestion to axe Brand USA has been met with concern from a number of peak travel & tourism groups, including the US Travel Association (USTA). Its president and chief executive officer Roger Dow labelled the decision as “especially perplexing” since Brand USA had had the backing of the US Commerce Secretary and the Office of Management & Budget.

“With all that’s going on in the world, unilaterally disarming the marketing of the US as a travel destination would be to surrender market share at the worst possible time,” he said. Dow added USTA was “struggling” to understand how the strategy met Trump’s “stated priorities”.

Brand USA itself has been tight-lipped about the proposal, with its president and chief executive officer Christopher Thompson saying at last month’s annual IPW trade show in Washington DC that any change “would have a direct impact on travel & tourism”. Thompson highlighted Brands USA’s successes, highlighting an independent analysis of its return on investment (ROI) over the last four years which found the body had delivered more than 4 million additional visitors to America, nearly US$14 million in extra spending and around 51,000 new jobs.

More than 300 travel businesses, associations and destination marketing organisations are rallying around the organisation, emphasising its value and ROI, with every US$1 Brand USA spent on marketing generating US$27 to the US economy.

Among supporters are Loews Hotel & Co. boss Jonathan Tisch who defended the organisation, saying shelving Brand USA “makes no sense on a policy level”, and that by reducing foreign travel to the USA it will increase America’s trade deficit.

“With US immigration and security policies in flux, Brand USA is essential to helping travellers understand and navigate these new and changing environments. The Trump Administration shouldn’t be cutting Brand USA…it should be embracing it,” Tisch remarked.

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