U.S. Out To Restore Tourism’s Old Glory

With anti-American sentiment abroad reaching a fever pitch, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s new agency team will target ally Britain in an effort to reinvigorate tourism to the U.S. and find the best value for its shrunken ad budget.

Seeking an agency with tourism expertise as well as the ability to stretch marketing dollars, the department last week selected a trifecta of independent agencies—Edelman, M&C Saatchi and BVK, together dubbed the “Visit America Alliance”—for the $6 million, one-year contract. The team is charged with creating the first campaign to tout America as a tourism destination in nearly a decade.

“The Visit America Alliance delivered the best value to the government,” said Doug Baker, deputy assistant secretary of commerce, who handles tourism. “This is going to be … one of the few times that we’ve done a full, comprehensive campaign overseas. We think this will show some positive results.”

The U.S. travel and tourism industry, the country’s fourth-largest export, has suffered since 9/11, with spending by international inbound travelers dipping from $102 billion in 2000 to $87.8 billion in 2002, according to the department—a drop of about 14 percent.

“As a whole, visitation is suffering because [the U.S.] isn’t out there keeping up with competitors like Spain, Canada, Mexico and Hong Kong,” said Cathy Keefe, a rep at the Travel Industry Association of America in Washington.

Getting more bang for the buck became a factor after lawmakers, in an appropriations bill in December, proposed cutting the Bush administration’s original allocation of $50 million to tout the U.S. in five markets—Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany and the U.K.—to $6 million.

Britain, as America’s largest overseas market, was seen as the location where the pared-down budget would provide the largest return on investment, said Baker. “They are showing the most resilience [out of all international markets],” he said.

The Visit America Alliance won the business following a review that included other, undisclosed shops. Each of the three winners has experience in the travel category, with Edelman counting Illinois Tourism and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts among its clients, M&C Saatchi (Tourism New Zealand and British Airways), and BVK (The Mark Travel Corp., Sunstream Resorts and TravelGuard International insurance).

The department’s campaign is being handled out of Edelman in Chicago, M&C Saatchi in Los Angeles and BVK in Tampa, Fla. M&C Saatchi’s London and Tokyo offices will produce creative. London-based independent Walker Media will handle media.

“We’re going to be promoting concepts that encompass bigger experiences and bigger ideas … concepts that will encompass as many experiences as possible,” said Toby McCarrick, svp in the tourism and lifestyle practice at Edelman in Chicago, adding that part of the strategy would be to form partnerships with companies in the tourism industry, such as airlines and hotels.

The effort, which is expected to break in the early fall, will include TV, print, public relations and online work.

“Over the last 10 years, we have been losing market share for global travelers,” said Baker. “By having a presence, we keep our foot in the door.”

“[The budget cuts are] a shame,” said Keefe. But, she added, “whatever they do in the long run will only benefit us.”