Brand USA maps out its path to the future
Special to Canadian Travel Press
Chris Thompson, President & CEO of Brand USA sits down with Canadian Travel Press to map out the path the organization is following as it looks forward to welcoming Canadian travellers back to the US once it is safe to do so.
How and when do you see travel ‘re-starting’ between Canada and the USA; and why do you believe this will be the case?We want Canadians to know we look forward to welcoming them back with open arms and a warm smile as soon as it is safe to do so. Government officials, in consultation with health experts, will ultimately make the determinations about when borders will open and restrictions will be eased.
We know a safe travel environment is an absolute. We also know our industry is resilient and when it is safe to do so, the Canadian market will be among the first to return.
Can you talk about some of the barriers Brand USA expects to encounter in its journey to ‘re-start travel’ between Canada and the USA and how it plans to work to remove those barriers?
As a self-declared eternal optimist, 2020 tested all of our collective optimism like never before. Coming off the most difficult year our industry has faced in my lifetime, the new year brings hope for a better tomorrow.
While there are still many challenges ahead of us, distribution of vaccines is helping us see a brighter light at the end of the tunnel. And, when the time is right, our industry will help lead economic recovery for both our nations.
One of the biggest questions confronting the travel industry since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has been, when can and will we resume international travel marketing and launch a recovery campaign?
Brand USA has developed a business planning framework with a set of “gating criteria” to help determine when the conditions are appropriate to transition from a “state of readiness” to a recovery mode.
Our criteria include measures such as COVID case incident and growth rates, air seat capacity, consumer sentiment, travel policies, and consumer behaviours, such as search and product queries.
On the home front, we are monitoring case rates and destination openness. We are monitoring all these gating criteria on a rolling basis to determine when sufficient criteria show sustained momentum to justify a transition from a state of readiness to deploying resources against a full recovery marketing campaign.
Travel agents will play a vital role in encouraging and facilitating Canadian visitors back to the United States. In addition to providing inspiration and guidance, their clients will also expect them to be up-to-date on the latest news, trends, guidelines, and procedures, and this is where Brand USA is well-positioned to assist.
We’ve created an easy-to-access, interactive platform called Brand USA Global Marketplace, which we’re debuting to the travel trade.
We think it’s a game-changer.
I know Brand USA has been doing ongoing research on traveller sentiment and I’m wondering if you could share some of that intelligence with Canadian Travel Press’ readers?
Our research tells us there is pent-up demand and when it is safe to do so, Canadians will be ready to return to the United States.
Specifically, some trends we are seeing include an increased appetite for group travel. Family and friends cut off by the border are looking forward to coming together to enjoy destinations that have widespread appeal.
After spending the year travel-dreaming, travellers around the world are looking at their bucket lists to eventually booking those dream trips and once in a lifetime experiences.
And, we’re seeing a lot of momentum towards road trips. People are comforted by the safety, convenience and relative ease of getting in their car, or renting an RV, once travel resumes.
The industry around the world has talked a lot about rebuilding consumer confidence and trust in travel or travelling. I’m wondering if you can talk about the strategy and messaging that Brand USA and its partners will be using to restore confidence and trust?
The USA remains an aspirational destination, reflecting the spirit of freedom and reinvention which has always characterized our nation. Once conditions warrant, our engagement framework will position the United States to recapture its share of international visitation when people begin to travel again.
Our recovery messaging will prove we’re ready and welcome the world back, while bringing to life post-COVID possibilities to entice and convert. When it is safe and the time is right, we will launch a recovery campaign using the best of Brand USA’s content – including world-class cinematography and storytelling – while leveraging partnerships with airlines, tour operators and OTAs to drive bookings to the USA.
As a follow up, there have been occasions when media reports have questioned whether travelling during a pandemic is the proper thing to be doing. First of all, how do you respond to this? And secondly, are you concerned that this attitude could linger?
We recommend travellers follow the travel advice and advisories proved by their respective governments. Our current focus at Brand USA is to inform and support our partners and to help keep the US top-of-mind among travelers, so when the time is right to travel, they can begin to book their next visits.
Canada is the number-one source market for inbound US travel with nearly 21 million Canadians visiting the United States in 2019.
We know there is pent-up demand for the terrestrial border to open between our two countries, and when that happens, we’ll be waiting with open arms.
I had a conversation with someone recently and they observed that while border closures, quarantines and travel advisories are clearly preventing consumers from travelling, the ‘lack of joy’ when they consider travelling or the travel experience has also become a barrier. So, that’s kind of the long way around to asking you, how is Brand USA and its partners going to bring the joy back to the travel experience?
At the end of the day, all of us in the travel industry are privileged to work in jobs which allow us to speak to the innate human desire to explore and discover new destinations and experiences. That was true before the pandemic and still rings true today. I’ve been saying throughout this pandemic, what we’re experiencing is not a demand issue. The United States is no less aspirational. Instead, the ability to travel is challenged due to the pandemic.
Brand USA was created more than a decade ago to provide a platform for the US travel and tourism industry to compete on a level playing field for international visitors and their spending.
We’ve used most of the past decade pioneering cooperative marketing platforms and programs which leverage and grow the USA brand in ways our partners would be challenged or unable to do on their own.
We are well-positioned to navigate these turbulent times and help lead the recovery by inspiring Canada and the world to once again travel to the United States. Even though these are unprecedented times, the travel and tourism community is resilient and will come back with renewed determination.
There will be joy in travel again!