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Thursday, November 11, 2010

O Say, Can You See America?

The attempt to market the tourism attractions of the United States abroad is hardly a new concept. For many years, the United States Travel and Tourism Administration robustly represented American tourism concerns overseas. But in the mid-1990s, the agency was largely defunded and its overseas offices closed. (USTTA still exists as a miniscule part of the Department of Commerce). The United States was left with the unwelcome distinction as one of the few major countries without a national tourism office.

After USTTA packed most of its bags, overseas marketing was left, in large part, to individual companies like Disney or large tourism destinations like Las Vegas and New York City. The U.S. Travel Association also has worked to bring international travelers to these shores. But especially after September 11, 2001, when tourism plummeted dramatically, the need for renewed federal support became ever more evident.

Finally, in March, 2010, the Travel Promotion Act was signed into federal law. It called for the development of a public-private Corporation for Travel Promotion, which is charged with attracting more international visitors to the United States. The U.S. Department of Commerce oversees the Corporation. An 11-member board was named in September.

At a board meeting today in Washington, DC, it was noted that President Obama has agreed to "star" in promotional spots touting the country's tourism attractions overseas. The board also discussed the use of a sexier nom de plume. "Discover America" was the popular choice. While that trademark currently belongs to the U.S. Travel Association, it appears that the name may be transferred to the new cause. The other big piece of news to come out of the session is that the board is starting the search for a full-time executive director. So, industry veterans, get those resumes ready.

Details for Policy Wonks

According to U.S. Travel, "the Corporation will develop a multi-channel marketing and communications program to attract more international visitors and explain changing travel security policies. The initiative will be funded through a matching program featuring up to $100 million in private sector contributions and a $10 fee on foreign travelers who do not pay $131 for a visa to enter the United States. No money is provided by U.S. taxpayers."

Oxford Economics estimates that, if CTP efforts are successful, it will lead to $4 billion in new spending annually, along with the creation of 40,000 new jobs and the generation of $321 million in new tax revenue each year. Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the Travel Promotion Act could reduce the federal deficit by $425 million over ten years.

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