Brand USA is the public-private partnership responsible for promoting the U.S. as an international destination. Chris Thompson, the former Visit Florida CEO who took over the top job two years ago, spoke with News Editor Bill Poling. Q: President Obama established the goal of bringing 100 million visitors to the U.S. by 2021. Are you going to make it?
Yes, I believe we will make it. One of the things we've been working on lately is what we call our "path to 100 million visitors." We're doing a very deep dive into each of the markets, where they stand, whether it's an established market or an emerging market, what do we have as far as market share. We're doing that so we'll have a clear path to what we think will be our share in each market that will get us to that 100 million.
It was a stretch goal but one that is achievable if we stay focused. Q: With different markets -- emerging markets vs. more established markets -- are you finding that you have to deal with them in different ways?
Absolutely. We basically have three different buckets that we work out of: our direct-to-consumer campaign, our cooperative marketing programs, and then we have our relationship direct with the travel trade.
In established markets, we have to get over, in some cases, the "been there, done that" mentality, and we do that not only by reinforcing what [potential visitors] already know but introducing the things they probably don't know about. [In] emerging markets, it's still a dream to come to the U.S. so our brand campaign is centered around that. Q: You mentioned co-ops and partnership arrangements. Suppose that I'm a small-town visitors bureau or a small hotel or even an out-of the-way state: Even if I believe in what you're doing, what can Brand USA do for me?
Gosh, there's a lot we can do. The great equalizer is our digital platforms and what we do through our DiscoverAmerica.com website and the extension of that into international markets.
As destination marketers, we're storytellers: We're basically trying to put our destination front and center and tell a compelling story about it. So we have developed lots of programs that speak to what we call "beyond the gateway."
One of the neat programs we have is in-language video. Through a cooperative marketing program that we offer to our states, cities and to individual properties, we produce little, two-and-a-half-minute vignettes ... that speak to what you have to offer, helps you tell your story. Those end up being a very affordable way for a more remote state or lesser-known destination or business to tell their story.
We are very cognizant of the need to provide opportunities for everybody. One of the compelling marketing principles is we can't be everything to everybody, but we should be something to everybody that wants to play. Q: In terms of the visitor statistics, the needle is obviously moving, but how do you prove to skeptics that it's you that's moving it?
We would never suggest that what we're doing is solely responsible for moving the needle, but if you look at the last full year, we had record visitation of 70 million visitors; we had record spend of nearly $181 billion. We know we have contributed to that because what we now have is a unified effort to sell this destination that is the USA like it's never been sold before.