Tue December 14, 2010

Travel Group Unites U.S. Tourism Strategy

The United States doesn't attract nearly as many foreign travelers as it used to. And to try to address that, the U.S. government and travel industry have launched a new travel promotion corporation. The group says one of its first tasks will be convincing international travelers that the U.S. is looking forward to seeing them.

Until now, each U.S. state has been responsible for attracting its own domestic and international tourists. The United States has never promoted itself to the world as a whole country.

The U.S. never needed to until after the Sept. 11 attacks, says Geoff Freeman of the U.S. Travel Association. Then, he says, international neighbors started feeling like they weren't wanted.

"This came at a time when the U.S. dollar was weak, the global economy was strong, and travelers were growing around the world," says Freeman. "And yet by the millions, fewer were coming to the United States."

'We Need People To Be Thinking About America'

The U.S. has seen fewer overseas visitors in every year after Sept. 11. And the decline in tourism has cost the country an estimated 18,000 jobs.

The new Corporation for Travel Promotion is trying to bring back those jobs. It's a public and private partnership between the government and the tourism industry, including the heads of Diamond Resorts International and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Orlando.

Its board members say every state needs the power of the U.S. brand to make people visit.

"Even California does. Certainly Mississippi does, or Tennessee," says Caroline Beteta, president of California's Travel & Tourism Commission, and now also the vice chairwoman of the CTP.

"We need people to be thinking about America," says Beteta. "If they're not thinking about America, they'll never consider California."

Promoting The Icons

Each state is still going to promote itself and its iconic landmarks, and Beteta says the CTP will also promote those same icons to attract first-time visitors.

"In China and India, where it's a life dream for somebody to come, they're going to be more responsive to the Golden Gate Bridge ... the Statue of Liberty [and] Las Vegas."

But Beteta says the group plans to market all of the country -- all the different experiences and food cultures that aren't as popular abroad. She calls it the "undiscovered U.S."

"The great travel South, and Mississippi and the Heritage Trail of Alabama," she says.

The CTP is launching "Destination America" — an international ad campaign including TV spots, print ads and websites to educate the world about the rules for entering the United States.

New Entry Fees Fund Campaign

Entering the U.S. used to be free, but the Department of Homeland Security is now charging foreign travelers a $14 fee to fund the new group's $200 million annual budget.

Of that fee, $10 will go to the Corporation for Travel Promotion, and $4 will go to Homeland Security -- to improve entry policies.

The U.S. Travel Association's Freeman says getting Homeland Security to improve the visa system and create a more efficient and "friendly" entrance procedure will be the most challenging work for the CTP.

"We have to convince these leaders to embrace the idea that we can be the world's most secure country, while also being the world's most welcoming, while also being the world's most efficient, while also being a country that promotes commerce," Freeman says.

The new Corporation for Travel Promotion is kicking off its campaign just after a wave of bad publicity about stepped-up security measures at U.S. airports. Beteta says these new procedures could have a negative impact if her group doesn't do a good job of explaining what the new policies are and how they work. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.