U.S. Tourism Boost

Officials to begin a proposed $150 million marketing campaign

By: Amy Langfield

ELLIS ISLAND U.S. tourism officials will target five countries in the first wave of what they hope will become a $150 million international marketing campaign to boost the sluggish U.S. travel industry.

If successful, the campaign focusing on Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany should show results by spring, Commerce Secretary Don Evans said last week.

The national push to boost travel was announced last week at the first meeting of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and coincided with the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that sent travel plummeting.

While the industry has stabilized in the ensuing months, international travel remains off and the special board was empaneled to try to reinvigorate tourism.

The five countries were chosen because they accounted for 75 percent of all international travelers to the United States and 49 percent of spending in 2002, according to the Commerce Department.

“You go where the fish are,” Evans said.

Board members said they hope to leverage $50 million allocated by President Bush for the campaign into a larger sum and add more markets.

“No one can say $50 million is a lot of money,” said James Rasulo, chairman of the travel board and president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

“We need to grow the $50 million. This is seed money,” said Noel Irwin Hentschel, vice chair of the promotion board, and chairman and CEO of AmericanTours International.

“We want to grow it to at least $150 million.”

Of the $50 million, $40 million will be used to promote the United States overall, while $10 million will be used to promote regional destinations including specific states or cities, Evans said.

The group has not yet finished the requests for proposals to conduct research it wants before launching the campaign.

But board members said they want to move quickly, with the goal of starting the campaign by December to reach travelers booking summer holidays in January.

The campaign will likely include television commercials and other forms of advertising like stock footage of U.S. images in order to expedite the campaign, Rasulo said.

There may be different campaigns for each market reflecting the varied travel times, preferred modes of transportation and lengths of stay, he said.

Hentschel’s AmericanTours, the largest Visit USA tour operator in the United States, brings half a million tourists to the United States annually.

Hentschel said that based on bookings with travel agents she should have an idea of how successful the national tourism campaign is within 30 days after the commercials are broadcast.

During the public comment period, a representative of Visit USA urged the board to stick with its plan to expand its marketing campaign beyond the five initial countries.

“Please remember the small markets,” he said.

Linda Conlin, assistant secretary of trade development, responded by flagging the partnership program.

“We are open to expanding the campaign as we find our partners coming forward,” she said.

The 15-member committee, which plans to meet monthly, includes J.W. Marriott Jr., chairman and CEO of Marriott International Inc.; Glenn Tilton, chairman and CEO of United Airlines.

It also includes Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels; Jonathan Linen, vice chairman of American Express; and Henry Silverman, president and CEO of Cendant Corp.

The group formed three sub-committees: a return on investment group chaired by Tilton; a marketing and communications group led by Rasulo; and a strategic alliance and partnership group led by AmericanTour’s Hentschel.

During the meeting, Hentschel said she hopes the $50 million budget becomes an annual allocation.

Later in an interview, Evans said he was not certain whether that would happen.

Evans did say, however, that the concerns voiced by some members of the board about tough visa regulations and other impediments to travel will be part of the board’s advisory role to him.

“I’m interested in hearing what their issues are,” he said.

During the meeting, Tisch urged the federal government to balance its post-Sept. 11 security measures with a need to encourage legitimate travel to the United States.

“We really have to analyze our relationship with the State Department,” Tisch said.

The Travel Industry Association of America appealed to President Bush to intervene with the Department of Homeland Security over visa and travel restrictions that it says will hamper travel to the United States.

Last week the association (www.tia.org) said the U.S. had granted a one-year waiver on some restrictions that had been set to take effect next month, including the requirement for machine-readable passports.