'Brand USA' targets 100M visitors by 2021

AP Photo/James Poulson/Daily Sitka Sentinel

A national travel and tourism strategy promoting “Brand USA” and a goal of increasing the number of annual international visitors to 100 million by 2021 was unveiled at a Washington, D.C. news conference May 10.

The strategy contains a mix of marketing and management tactics with particular potential for the state’s visitor industry according to the Alaskan on the advisory board that helped write the plan.

“Most of what they outline is policies & general goals. The next step is what specifically steps are going to be taken. I think our group can have a lot of input on specific steps within these goals in bringing this plan to reality,” said Kirk Hoeffel, appointed to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board shortly after President Barak Obama created the larger task force that built the strategy.

Hoeffel is the owner of Alaska Wild Lands Adventures, which offers “soft adventure” packages including day trips and luxury nights from three Kenai Peninsula lodges.

Elements of the strategy holding particular potential for Alaska are its focus on foreign travelers, who spend an average of $4,200 per trip according to federal data, and on visits to national parks and other federally owned facilities, Hoeffel noted.

In 2011 the U.S. greeted 62 million international visitors who “generated travel and tourism exports of $153 billion, according to the strategy report. Travel exports include receipts collected by US air carriers plus purchases of goods and services by international visitors here.

U.S. and international traveler spending totaled $807 billion in 2011, with business travel accounting for 22 percent of the total.

“This is our largest U.S. services export,” said Secretary of Commerce John Bryson at the rollout news conference.

Hitting the 100 million-visitor target would increase international spending to an estimated $250 billion, he said.

“We want the world to know there has never been a better time to visit the United States and that America is truly open for business,” Bryson said.

“These visitors stay in hotels. They rent cars. They fill up at local gas stations,” added Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The report also notes that the source countries for visitors here are changing dramatically with the greatest increases coming from those not currently included in the visa waiver program.

From 2006 to 2011 the number of visitors from non-waiver countries grew by 34 percent and is forecast to rise by 53 percent from 2011 to 2016.

Visa-free visits increased 26 percent from 2006 to 2011 and are projected to rise only 17 percent by 2016.

Visits by Chinese nationals are expected to increase the most, by more than 198 percent in the next five years with Brazil and Argentina projected as the next highest at over 70 and 46 percent, respectively.

“One of the things that international visitors value is things that they don’t have in their home country. In many cases it’s simple as fresh air, open spaces and wildlife viewing opportunities. We have, of course, an abundant supply in Alaska,” Hoeffel said.

The Alaska Department of Commerce report on international visitors for 2011 says Chinese comprised just two percent of the 154,100 foreign nationals, excluding Canadians, who came to the state. Australians led the total with 23 percent. Europeans accounted for 42 percent with half of that figure from the United Kingdom.

Asians, specifically including Japanese, Indians, Chinese, Malaysians, Koreans and Thais, comprised just 12 percent of last year’s total.

The national strategy includes expansion of the visa waiver program, negotiation of more “open sky” agreements to remove government limits on the number of international flights and more user-friendly security screening at airports.

“We’re going to work to streamline the entry process into the country,” Bryson said.

Public/private partnerships will be developed to add tourism promotional elements to State Department and other official overseas events and to create travel planning tools and information access in multiple languages.

To expand domestic and international tourism in length and beyond the iconic locations circuit trip routes will be developed. For example, Salazar said, travelers to the Las Vegas casinos will have information on methods and means to take in the Grand Canyon and Mojave Desert attractions during their stay.

“Brand USA,” which is both a label and an organization, will coordinate work by federal departments and agencies. The Travel Promotion Act of 2009 established the nonprofit Corporation for Travel Promotion. Now operating as Brand USA, the corporation recently established the DiscoverAmerica.com website. This month it began promotional efforts in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan with a second marketing wave targeting South Korea and Brazil later this year.

It will also take over operation of the existing Office of Travel and Tourism Industries with “additional focus, additional leadership, additional energy,” said Ken Hyatt, a U.S. Department of Commerce official at the news conference.

Developments in each of these areas will be guided by the advisory board, which has split into multiple subcommittees. At his request, Hoeffel was placed on the infrastructure and sustainability committees, where he expects to address the difficulties created by Alaska’s isolation.

In this context “sustainability” means, “helping destinations be part of the solution as consumers and travelers want to find ways to continue their travel habits and do it in a greener lifestyle,” he explained.

“We want to showcase practices that are cutting edge and worthy of actually reducing our footprint on the environment so people can continue to travel and not feel guilty about it. If we’re not part of the solution we’ll be implicated as part of the problem and we have to recognize that people do change their habits,” Hoeffel said.

The state’s tourism marketing program is already working with Brand USA on new promotions and with federal land managers, according to Roberta Graham, special assistant to Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell.

“While this strategy is new and very exciting, Alaska has been working with our federal partners, most notably the National Park Service, for years to market Alaska’s federal assets, Graham said May 11.

05/17/2012 - 1:07pm