Brand USA, the organization responsible for promoting the U.S. as an international destination, has had to react to several challenges to inbound travel, ranging from currency to the new administration. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke with CEO Chris Thompson about how the group is responding.
Q: What has been Brand USA's biggest challenge concerning the first and second iterations of the travel ban?
A: The biggest challenge we've had recently has been separating reality from the misperceptions.
Even with the new executive order [EO], which is a lot narrower in scope, the reality of who it actually affects is a very small number of visitors.
And our job is to make sure that we help to clearly communicate what those changes in policy would be. We make available on all of our communication sites direct links to all visa and entry policies. Our job is to make sure that as soon as a policy changes, we can communicate that. We spent the entire week [last] week making sure we communicated what the scope of the new EO is, how it's different from the first one and who it actually affects.
Q: What are most of the misperceptions people have?
A: The scope of it, who would actually be affected. The reality is the mechanics of getting a visa and securing a visa really hasn't changed. The policies around how you qualify and if you qualify has changed. It just created a lot of uncertainty, and in times of uncertainty it creates anxiety. So our job is to make sure we address all of that so everyone can have a clearer understanding of the situation. The responsibility of marketing is making sure we get the right message to the right people at the right time.
Q: U.S. Travel stated that the new EO missed an opportunity to offer a welcoming message to potential travelers. Do you agree?
A: I'm not going to pass judgment on what should or shouldn't be done. [Welcoming travelers] is actually our job and what we do on a regular basis. We take the welcoming side very seriously, and any help we can get from anybody that wants to help us we're happy for, but that's what we're focused on every day.
Q: Have any specific markets reacted more negatively than others to the EO, where you've had to do more reassuring?
A: The biggest single thing that affects the travel landscape right now is the ongoing strength of the dollar in the markets we're active in. In Canada we are really challenged with currency, in Mexico [as well]. As far as anything being affected by the new administration, the one market most challenged has been Mexico, for obvious reasons -- there's been a lot of conversations about Mexico. But there is also the currency issue there.
Q: This is the first change in administration since Brand USA was created. Is that a challenge for you?
A: In general it's always an exciting time when you have a new administration coming onboard: new leadership, new players. For Washington in its simplest format, this is no different. When you look at Trump, he's a businessman, he owns resorts and golf courses, he has publicly said he understands the power of travel and tourism. We are waiting for our chance to tell our story.
Q: Considering the challenges to inbound travel, is Brand USA's role more important now than ever?
A: It just reinforces why there needs to be a national DMO that umbrellas the entirety of what the destination represents.
We are excited about the fact that we have that responsibility and the chance to represent the interests of the industry with the incoming administration. We're right here on top of it and right in touch with what's happened. Day to day, week to week and as we move forward in the months ahead.