By: Edwin Fuller
Founder and President of Laguna Strategic Advisors
Most of you reading this blog probably have never heard of Brand USA, the public-private tourism marketing organization created in 2010 under the Travel Promotion Act. You might wonder why you should care whether or not the organization is eliminated as President Trump’s budget proposes to do. But you should care – and care a lot. Not one penny of taxpayer money supports Brand USA, but its return to America’s economy is simply phenomenal.
For many reasons, Brand USA is a good deal for America, and an investment worth protecting.
Brand USA’s purpose is to promote international visitation to the US through in-country advertising campaigns, improve America’s image abroad and clearly communicate our visa and entry policies.
The agency, which operates without US taxpayer money, is funded by a combination of (1) contributions from destinations throughout all 50 US states; (2) contributions from travel businesses; and (3) revenue from Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) fees paid by international travelers when they apply to visit the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Without it, America would have missed out on millions of additional visitors, billions in additional visitor spending, and more importantly, tens of thousands of additional American jobs.
Brand USA has a staff of 60 and its annual budget is about $164 million. Last year, the agency received about $93 million in fee funding from the ESTA applications – the rest was matched by contributions from private sector partners and destinations.
Why, then, is Brand USA under threat of elimination? President Trump’s budget has proposed redirecting ESTA revenue to US Customs and Border Protection, thereby eliminating a significant source of Brand USA’s operating funds and placing the very existence of Brand USA in jeopardy.
Why do we need a tourism promotion agency for the US?
Encouraging international travelers to visit the US is good for our trade balance and creates American jobs – and the international travel is intensely competitive.
The Prize? More than 1 billion international travelers
More than 1 billion people cross international borders every year and competition for these travelers worldwide is fierce. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reports that, last year, governments spent $413 billion on tourism promotion – up 10% from five years ago.
The Seychelles, for example, spent more than 22% of its annual budget, excluding defense and welfare spending; the Dominican Republic and Jamaica spent 21.8% and 17.1% respectively; and Jordan, Iceland and Singapore each spent more than 10%. WTTC predicts this spending to increase another 29% over the next decade.
Because the US is such a large, diverse country with so much to offer visitors, we need a dedicated agency to highlight all of America – not just the big names like New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas. The great thing about Brand USA is that it doesn’t just promote the major gateway cities. The bulk of its marketing efforts are dedicated to highlighting smaller and medium-sized destinations across the country. This includes locations in the Rust Belt, the South and the Midwest, many of which cannot afford to promote themselves. Thanks to Brand USA’s work, though, many of them have seen upticks in international visitation and have enjoyed the accompanying rise in job creation, spending growth and tax revenue increases.
Brand USA is a Star “Return on Investment” Performer
According to the independent research firm Oxford Economics, over the last 4 years, Brand USA’s marketing efforts have resulted in:
- Over 4 million additional visitors to the US who might not have visited otherwise;
- Over 14 billion in additional visitor spending;
- The creation of nearly 51,000 additional American jobs per year; and
- Nearly $4 milllion in federal, state and local tax revenue, which help fund vital services like fire departments and public schools.
As Roger Dow, president of the US Travel Association, pointed out recently, “Brand USA is an outstanding performer from an ROI standpoint, and hamstringing this successful public-private Partnership would be a bad move for our economy. The value Brand USA adds is simply phenomenal and it’s all done without a dime of taxpayer money.”
Mr. Dow reiterated his point recently to an audience of over 6,400 international travel and US destinations in Washington, DC, stating simply: “Brand USA is here to stay.”
What can you do? As they say, all politics is local, so I encourage you to join me in contacting your Congressional representatives and voicing your support for Brand USA. The health of our economy depends on it.