Canadian Travel Press
Issue Date: Aug 19, 2019

More American stories from Brand USA

Writing a new chapter


(Photo above: Christopher Thompson, president of Brand USA, was a keynote speaker at the recent IPW conference and trade mart in Anaheim, CA.)

United Stories is the latest addition to a suite of story-telling platforms by Brand USA that help illustrate and define the characteristics – and characters – of the United States. Prospective visitors to the US are the intended consumers of this content, which is on a schedule of ongoing production.

“Our goal is to amplify the stories of our suppliers, from mobiles to giant screens and everything in between,” said Christopher Thompson, president of Brand USA, in a recent interview with Canadian Travel Press.

For instance, the great outdoors of the United States is a common denominator of attraction for the international audience, said Thompson. So too is American music, which is a
record of the path to nationhood for the country, he said.

Both of these traits continue to be key pillars of tourism promotion for the Stars and Stripes, and both are proven as effective travel motivators for tourists.

United Stories is the latest program deployed by Brand USA to spread the word on why travellers should consider a holiday in America.

“We put measurements on these platforms to determine subscription, engagement and consumption,” said Thompson.

The return on investment (ROI) on this overall suite of programs as determined by Oxford Economics has been “very compelling” over the six years of their modelling, he said. “And we believe that is a relatively conservative result, so we’re happy.” The marketing ROI is 28 to 1 in terms of tourism returns from marketing dollars spent.

For instance, since fiscal year 2013, Brand USA marketing efforts have generated 6.6 million incremental visitors who have spent US$21.8 billion on travel and fare receipts with US carriers.

Stories Are United

United Stories is a platform designed as an exhibition space for a series of professionally shot and produced vignettes about destinations and people around America. Thompson describes it as a “mobile content creation lab” that gathers compelling stories from across the country using local voices.

The content is generated by the creative team at Beautiful Destinations. Their work gives Brand USA the ability to capture and distribute content at the speed of consumer consumption, they say. These video chapters are being produced at a rate of about two per month, and the United Stories program was launched in January.

Colin Skerritt, the new Canada regional director for Brand USA, at IPW with one of the United Stories vehicles.

“With the help of our in-house predictive visual analytics technology (NEO), we deployed a bespoke model to leverage USA’s existing imagery and sourced highly-engaging social content for key platforms,” says the company.

A supplement to the Beautiful Destinations work was in the first of the United Stories series, which featured content by video influencers. A group of professional vloggers were invited to a remote spot in South Dakota in the middle of winter to find compelling content.

Belle Fourch, SD was chosen for this outing because it is the geographic centre of the United States – calculated to reflect the 1959 additions of Alaska and Hawaii to the nation.

“This was an unexpected idea – to visit South Dakota in winter – so they were intrigued,” said Monica Ceballos, Brand USA director of consumer and trade public relations. All the United Stories programs are visually arresting, with “thumb stopping” content creates wanderlust, said Ceballos.

It also creates lots of online response, as the influencers have pushed out their content on Instagram and other platforms.

“It all leads to incremental visitations,” she said, noting that the South Dakota chapter of United Stories earned millions of impressions. An algorithm is then used to determine how many actual visitations will be generated through these impressions.

Canadian Contributions

As its cross-border neighbour, Canada is the number one market for US tourism in terms of volume, with 21.2 million visitors in 2018. And it is number two in terms of spend, at US$22.1 billion, behind China in the number one spot.

Projected arrivals to the US from Canada are on an upward curve, and are forecast to grow to 24.6 million by 2023. Overall international tourism growth to the U.S. is pegged at a 3.2% increase in 2019 vs. 2018 – and Brand USA is “doing its part to drive more visitations,” said Thompson.

A big part of that work in this country is the responsibility of Colin Skerritt, the newly appointed Canada regional director for Brand USA. His job is to deploy principal marketing pillars, including direct and digital consumer marketing, engagement with the travel trade and co-operative marketing with supplier partners.

“Canadians tend to have certain preferences for their vacations to the US,” said Skerritt, who met with Canadian Travel Press during the recent IPW conference and travel trade mart in Anaheim. “We know these preferences and are helping the tour operators be better able to sell those destinations and attractions.”

“Having someone in-market is the most efficient way to deploy our resources in Canada, and he is helping to leverage all of those resources,” said Thompson. “He is very comfortable with the Canadian market, he checked all the boxes, he is our face up there. We put him straight into the fire at IPW,” said Thompson.

London Calling

Another part of the DMO’s promotional mandate will be the upcoming Brand USA Travel Week in London, scheduled for Sept. 9-13.

As the number one long haul volume market, the United Kingdom was due for a working visit by Brand USA, said Thompson. The upcoming mission in London will include a marketplace, which will serve as a convenient meeting spot for tour operators and buyers across Europe and the UK who specialize in selling US product.

“This will give us lots of time to meet them — especially those who didn’t make it to IPW this year,” said Thompson. “We will be targeting the top buyers across Europe.”

The attendance goal for the mission will be about 150 buyers and 100 suppliers, he said.

The successful reception and operation of the Travel Week mission will help define a plan to try the format further afield in the world. One may be scheduled for India in 2020, he said. “This is a great option for suppliers and buyers in Europe, outside of WTM and ITB.”

But the attention will return to America next year, when the 52nd edition of IPW will be staged in Las Vegas.

“Anaheim really stepped up and did an exceptional job this year,” said Thompson. “Every year, the bar is set higher and higher, and next year, IPW will be held in Las Vegas. They have hosted IPW before and I’m sure they will deliver another great show.”

Transat has Cuba covered

Just so everyone has the right link to last week’s special Transat Cuba Voices of Travel podcast here it is again. Transat has a wide range of product in Cuba that will appeal to all types of travellers and their budgets, so check out what’s on offer by going to – it’s well worth the listen.

Baxter Media’s Voices of Travel podcast series is committed to informing, educating and entertaining its listeners with stories of some of the remarkable people, places and trends shaping the travel and tourism industry in Canada and around the world.