Every captain needs a first mate. And at Virgin Voyages, the adults-only cruise line set to debut in 2020, its second-in-command will be none other than travel agents.
TORONTO — When deciding on the concept for Brand USA’s second feature film, music seemed like an obvious choice.
“Music is one of those things that emotionally connects with people, it stays with them and inspires them to travel,” Anne Madison, Brand USA’s Chief Strategy and Communications Officer tells Travelweek. “When people are on a trip, they remember the music that occurred and when they go home and hear that music again, it causes them to re-experience their great travels and also share them with other people.”
Out in theatres now, ‘America’s Musical Journey’ is Brand USA’s second 3D IMAX film, following the hugely successful ‘National Parks Adventure’ documentary in 2016. That film has now been viewed by six million people, with 81% saying they would now consider a trip to the U.S., and of those 61% said they would consider the U.S. over another destination. An impressive 20% of total viewers said they will travel to the U.S. as a result of watching the movie, which Madison says is “pretty amazing for a single marketing initiative.”
Madison is hoping for similar results with ‘America’s Musical Journey’, which traces the roots of American music by highlighting some of the country’s great musical cities like Los Angeles, New York, Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami and Nashville. Narrated by Morgan Freeman and starring Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Aloe Blac, the film will roll out internationally in over 14 markets with the goal of increasing visitation to the U.S.
“We want people to dream about a destination, then we want them to book, then we want them to travel, and then we want them to share their experience while travelling,” says Madison. “Music is a vehicle that provides inspiration throughout that entire cycle.”
The film was officially launched yesterday in Toronto as part of Canadian Music Week, which for the first time in its 36-year history is spotlighting the United States. The event also welcomed local tourist board representatives, including North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, Portland, Austin, Georgia, and Chicago, who shared the latest updates from their respective destinations.
Madison, who describes America’s music as being inspired by the world, says Canada was a fitting locale to showcase the movie. “It’s natural for Canadians and Americans to think of each other’s talent as being their own. There are blurred lines there, which is nice, and it makes it a natural fit for why we’re here at Canadian Music Week,” she adds.
Canada, which is a “critical and growing” market for the U.S., was one of the first international markets Brand USA focused its marketing efforts in, with major campaigns launched in 2012. Its efforts have certainly paid off, with 19.3 million Canadians visiting last year, which account for 25% of all international visitor arrivals.
“The visitation that we’ve driven out of Canada has been incremental,” says Madison. “In fact, the National Travel & Tourism Office’s current forecast is a 22% increase in visitation from Canada through 2022. That’s up from the forecast from a year before, which was only looking at a 9% increase through 2021.”
Why this boost in Canadian numbers? In addition to Brand USA’s focused marketing efforts, Madison attributes the uptick to the “strong affinity” between Canada and the U.S.
“I think it’s the proximity of our countries, I think it’s the shared language, and I also think it’s the diversity of our destinations,” she says. “There’s a commonality between our two countries and yet there’s still that surprise factor. Canadians and Americans like the familiar, but we like to be surprised at the same time.”
The Challenge of Promotion
When asked what are the main challenges Brand USA is seeing today in promoting the destination, Madison notes the increasing tourism budgets of other countries.
“People are seeing the value in marketing their destinations. So we’re finding better resourced competition from places like France, Mexico, Australia and lately New Zealand,” she says.
To meet this competition head on, Brand USA created more direct channels to the consumer, including GoUSA TV, which had its soft launch in November 2017 and is currently available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Roku. As a connected TVP app similar to Hulu and Netflix, GoUSA TV now has over two million views and features on-demand video content about travel experiences in the USA.
What About Those Budget Cuts?
Initial speculation of proposed budget cuts that would essentially eliminate BRAND USA was first reported in May 2017. According to industry reports, President Trump’s controversial budget proposal would shift revenue over to Customs and Border Protection, with travel and tourism falling by the wayside. So whatever happened to these proposed cuts?
Madison says there was no slash to the budget, and none in the foreseeable future. “We’re really confident in our budget and our ability to continue to market the USA because we continue to have strong support on both sides of the aisle. While we can’t engage in any kind of advocacy or lobbying efforts, this is information that’s being shared with us.”
Madison also notes that while the President’s budget is a statement of priorities, the “purse strings” and decisions are made by Congress.
“We’re not concerned about it. There’ve been a number of federal agencies that have also supported and included us in their budgets,” she says.
The Travel Agent Connection
“This is really critical for us,” says Madison. “Part of our strategy was to expand our efforts with the travel trade, from the tour operator and travel agency standpoint.”
Last month, Brand USA launched a new travel trade website (VisitTheUSA.com/TravelTrade), which features everything from the Brand USA Trip Kit and an expanded corporate calendar, to an overview of U.S. travel policies and a comprehensive directory of receptive tour operators.
“This website was a way to create almost white-label opportunities for the travel trade to promote unexpected destinations across the United States,” adds Madison. “We started out with about 20-24 different itineraries to, through and beyond the main gateways, which is particularly important for a market like Canada.”
Featured itineraries take travellers to places where “the population is less than 1,000”, like Loudoun County, Virginia. “With Loudoun County, which is so close to Washington, D.C., people are going to find great farmland, great vineyards, great wine and great locals. It’s places like this, tiny villages and towns, where Canadians can really find that local experience.”
Brand USA By The Numbers
Brand USA is the destination marketing organization for the United States, with a mission to increase international visitation, spend and market share. The campaigns and marketing initiatives it has launched over the past four years, together with its many partners, have helped welcome 4.3 million incremental visitors to the U.S., and US$13.6 billion in incremental spend. This translates into $29.5 billion in total economic impact (an average of $27 for each $1 spent on marketing).
“People around the world are realizing how important Travel & Tourism is, simply from an economic impact,” says Madison.
And what’s next?
Brand USA is currently in the concept stage of its third feature film, scheduled for release in February 2020. According to Madison, it will “have the essence of Culture and Innovation” in the United States.
“The first film was about celebrating our national parks, while this new one is all about music. I can’t give out too much detail about the third, but I can say it will be about Culture and Innovation.”