ANAHEIM, Calif. — As marketing groups like Visit Florida
contend with the perennial slashing of their budgets, Brand USA, the national
marketing arm, is emerging as an ever more important tool to promote U.S.
But this year, Brand USA’s existence is just as vulnerable
as that of any other destination marketing organization (DMO).
Speaking here at IPW, the U.S. Travel Association’s annual
conference, association CEO Roger Dow reiterated that Brand USA’s
reauthorization this year is “critical.”
Nor did he mince words when asked about Visit Florida’s loss
of one-third of its budget.
“I think it’s a huge mistake,” Dow said. “I
know what will happen. Next year, they’ll say, ‘See, it didn’t make any
difference.’ It will take two or three years. We’ve seen it all over the
country — in Pennsylvania, the state of Washington, Colorado. They cut the
budget, and a few years later tourism drops.”
The Travel Promotion Act prohibits Brand USA from lobbying
for itself, so U.S. Travel has made lobbying for it a top priority. But there
is also a nationwide chorus of voices attesting that without Brand USA, they
wouldn’t have the reach they do in important and lucrative markets.
David Lorenz, vice president of Pure Michigan, said that
China became the DMO’s top overseas market after working on that market for
three years. Pure Michigan has its own Chinese-language website, which it
launched with Brand USA.
“Brand USA gives us reach around the world,” he
said. “A state like Michigan could never afford to be in Australia, Korea,
China. We could never do consumer marketing there. How do you afford that? You
can’t, unless you work with the massive promotional marketing engine known as
Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, said he hears over and
over from destinations around the country how important the co-op marketing
platforms and programs are.
“If we’re no longer around, then that disappears,”
As to whether he thinks Brand USA will be reauthorized,
Thompson said: “I’m very confident.”
Visit Florida’s ‘surgical’ approach
With Visit Florida’s budget this year cut from $76 million
to $50 million, its new chief marketing officer, Gerardo Llanes, whose past
experience includes five years with the now-defunct Mexico Tourism Board, has
his work cut out for him.
Only one month into the job, Llanes said he is working on
making the DMO’s strategies and executions “more surgical.”
“We have to be a lot more creative in how to use those
funds,” he said. “We’ll really target where we’ll have the biggest
impact for the efforts we make. It’s difficult, but at the end, that’s what we
have. We believe we can deliver the numbers anyway.”
Visit Florida is no stranger to having to deal with budget
slashing and existential threats. It was only two years ago that members of the
Florida legislature tried to zero out its budget. Llanes said the DMO will
simply have to make some sacrifices, such as doing away with advertising on
network television, and will increase its trade partnerships with destinations
in order to expand its budget.
“Brand USA will be very important,” he said. “The
reality is we need to find a way of getting more resources coming in for our
marketing efforts, and those are co-ops, partnerships, maybe nontraditional
tourist partnerships that will allow us to get more media value and media
And just as Visit Florida needs Brand USA, the many smaller
destinations in Florida that don’t have the marketing budgets of an Orlando or
a Miami need Visit Florida.
“One of the roles we have is to help those smaller
destinations to be able to access that tourism market that by themselves they
wouldn’t be able to reach,” Llanes said. “The smaller ones really
say, ‘The Visit Florida platform allows me to have exposure I’d never have.'”
Llanes said those smaller destinations are “very
concerned” and are individually and collectively working to get out the
message that they need Visit Florida.
“A lot of local businesses live or die from tourism,”
he said. “To me, it’s bigger because they can’t feed their families. It
becomes a personal element.”
Visit Florida, like Brand USA, will have to be reauthorized
next year. And then its budget will have to be decided upon. Llanes is hoping
this won’t be a perennial issue going forward.
“I’m starting to propose a different funding model so
we can have more certainty in the money that comes in,” he said. “There
are different models that work around the world. We need to find the one that
works for Florida.”