Case made for Brand USA at congressional hearing

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Brand USA CEO Chris Thompson and the U.S. Travel Association's Tori Emerson Barnes at Tuesday's legislative hearing on reauthorizing Brand USA.
Brand USA CEO Chris Thompson and the U.S. Travel Association's Tori Emerson Barnes at Tuesday's legislative hearing on reauthorizing Brand USA.

Representatives from Brand USA and the U.S. Travel Association told a congressional subcommittee that if Brand USA is not renewed, the U.S. would continue to lose market share of international visitors.

U.S. Travel Association executive vice president for public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes told the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce that the U.S. share of the global travel market had dropped from 13.7% in 2015 to 11.7% in 2018, a decline of 14 million visitors and a hit to the economy of about $60 billion in spending.

"If nothing is done, our market share will continue to erode and is projected to fall below 11% by 2021," Barnes said. "This is why it is crucial for Congress to reauthorize Brand USA this year."

Brand USA was created by the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 and reauthorized by Congress in 2014. The agency will expire next year without action by Congress.

"If Brand USA were eliminated, the United States would be the only top 20 country destination without a national travel promotion budget," she said.

Barnes reminded the subcommittee that Brand USA costs the U.S. taxpayers nothing -- it is funded by fees paid by inbound travelers plus matching contributions from private companies -- and that competing nations have huge taxpayer-funded budgets, such as Australia ($120 million) and Japan ($84 million). 

Brand USA CEO Chris Thompson told the subcommittee that the organization needs to be reauthorized now, as opposed to waiting until next year, for the U.S. to remain competitive, because destination marketing plans are developed about 12 months prior to launching campaigns. 

Thompson also addressed a question on the decreasing number of Chinese visitors to the U.S. (down from 3.2 million to 3 million).

"Travel has the power to transcend politics," he said. "As there are trade tensions between our two countries, what makes the U.S. aspirational has little do with politics and everything to do with the destination and the experiences you can have here."

He said Brand USA's connection to potential visitors through its four offices and staying active with its social and digital platforms is essential.

"We're there and we're staying strong as far as our commitment there," Thompson said.

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