Brand USA is a private-public organisation that promotes the USA as a destination, both for travel and business, that has existed since 2010. This year marks the first edition of ‘Brand USA Travel Week’, which will come to London in September to promote tourism and business prospects to the United Kingdom and Europe as a whole.
Brand USA also works as a source of information, informing travellers on visa and entry policies. Naturally, a large part of its target market can travel to the USA through the Visa Waiver Programme, whereby applicants simply apply for an ESTA online prior to travel, and can visit the USA without a visa. The 38 member countries adhered to the Visa Waiver Programme include the UK. In fact, the UK was the first country to sign up to the Visa Waiver Program decades ago, so it is somewhat fitting that it will be hosting the first edition of Brand USA Travel Week this autumn.
As you might expect, Brand USA Travel Week is an event specifically dedicated to travel in the USA. It will give UK and European buyers the chance to meet the US travel community, whilst showcasing range of travel experiences across all US states and territories. The event will take place at Etc Venus County Hall right in the heart of London, from the 9th to the 13th of September, and registration will close on 31st July.
As part of the week, guests will be able to attend a range of different events, from B2B sessions and consumer events, to an ‘enrichment series’, which will serve as an educational opportunity for partners to take a look at recent trends in travel marketing through a series of seminars.
This first edition of Brand USA Travel Week comes as part of an overall revamping of Brand USA. The initiative was working well to boost US jobs and the economy on the whole, however it risked losing federal funding in recent years. The federal funding itself comes from the ESTA application that citizens of Visa Waiver Programme member countries pay to receive the authorisation, however the rest of Brand USA is funded through private donations. Criticism of Brand USA claimed that the money would be better spent in other federal areas. Nevertheless, in 2017, the programme was able to return $29 in visitor spending for each $1 spent on its marketing activities.
This all came as a declining trend of international visitation to the USA emerged; where some saw that this meant that Brand USA was failing in its objectives, others saw the opportunity in leveraging the channel to prevent further decline and shift the trend into a positive one once again. Thus, efforts have been ongoing to revamp Brand USA to maintain support and boost effectiveness.
As an example of these innovative solutions to renew the image of Brand USA, it recently launched and has now expanded a creative music campaign, ‘Hear the Music, Experience the USA’. The objective of this campaign is to showcase destination experiences to global visitors. The marketing campaign uses US music to promote destinations, and is in its second year running.
The campaign is working with 10 artists in the USA, whose local musical heritage has contributed to their own interpretation of two iconic songs: ‘What I Like About You’, by The Romantics, and ‘Boogie Shoes’, by KC and the Sunshine Band. The aim is to invite the global community to discover the broad range of cultures, traditions and people in the USA, using America’s music as a catalyst.
It includes customised playlists for travellers, travel itineraries recommended by artists, along with a whole host of articles and photo and video content, as well as audio, evidently! Brand USA is also partnering with Spotify to create five city-inspired playlists, for Austin (Texas), West Hollywood (California), Owensboro (Kentucky), Las Vegas (Nevada), and Jackson (Mississippi).
Beyond the ‘Hear the Music, Experience the USA’ campaign, Brand USA now also has its own streaming platform called ‘GoUSA TV’. The channel offers on-demand videos on a variety of experiences in the United States, to prospective travellers in the UK, Australia, Canada, India, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and Mexico, in the respective languages of these countries. The initiative aims to draw on developing trends in digital video and streaming consumption, with some two thirds of internet users watching video-on-demand content on a regular basis, and using this statistic to generate unique storytelling as a way to explain, promote and highlight the USA for prospective visitors.
Whilst Brand USA aims to encourage tourism and trade with the country, ‘Visit the USA’ is the consumer division of Brand USA, which aims to inspire travellers to explore its culture and possibilities. Through a comprehensive social media strategy, it provides travel ideas, road trips and themed experiences as core ways to explore certain aspects of the country, along with seasonal promotions.
Furthermore, in 2018, Brand USA launched a campaign that saw a ‘mobile content creation lab’ travelling across the USA, creating videos and photos tailored to different travel markets. The campaign includes vintage cars and boats, decorated in American designs of different types, going up and down the country. The ongoing campaign includes content from influencers, artists, local residents, travel experts and tourists, with a view to inspire travel throughout the expansive range of scenery, cultures and people that the USA has to offer.
In this context, Brand USA Travel Week will be an opportunity for players in the US travel community to re-establish the way that the country engages with the UK and Europe, highlighting the vast range of opportunities that these markets have to experience the USA. With a breakdown of 60% buyers and 40% suppliers, the event will be attended by tourism boards, accommodation providers, representatives of key attractions and businesses providing tourist activities, among others.
Of course, the decision to hold the Travel Week in the UK comes at a pivotal moment in global geopolitics. The United Kingdom’s imminent withdrawal from the United Kingdom means that many eyes are on the country and how it will harness and consolidate its future with other global players. Many have speculated as to whether Brexit will see the United Kingdom drifting more towards its friends across the pond, and the decision to hold the very first edition of Brand USA Travel Week here just months after the withdrawal could very well be part of a desire to build on a new kind of relationship that leverages new types of agreements to further expand those cash flows between the two countries. Aside from this, geographically speaking, holding this event in London makes a lot of sense for Brand USA, given London’s status as a metropolitan hub, close to many of the countries that see a greater output of tourists and businesses into the USA.
Given that a key part of Brand USA and its functioning is the ability for citizens of 38 countries to apply for ESTA – the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation – to travel to the USA visa-free, it seems only fitting to highlight the benefits of ESTA here.
Prospective travellers apply for ESTA online, with just their passports and a payment method. The ESTA application itself asks a range of simple questions to the applicant, including their passport information and contact details, and takes roughly ten minutes or so to complete. Once submitted, the application is cross-referenced with a range of databases, and uses the answers on the form to establish whether the applicant can be authorised to travel without a visa. In the vast majority of cases applicants are approved, and in a matter of minutes.
Applicants receive their ESTA authorisation directly to their email addresses. From this point, they are authorised to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme. Furthermore, they do not need to do anything else with their application; it is an entirely electronic system, so there is no need to print out the authorisation, given that it is automatically attached to their passports electronically.
With the ESTA, travellers can spend up to 90 days at a time in the USA, for tourism or business purposes. The authorisation itself is valid for two years (or up until the time that the passport used for the application expires, whichever comes first). Within these two years, the traveller can make as many journeys as they wish to the United States, provided that each journey falls under the conditions of the Visa Waiver Programme, which includes never exceeding this 90-day limit, and only travelling as tourists or on business, as well as a few other cases (short-term medical procedures, short-term non-academic studies, or in transit to another country, for example).
Brand USA is sure to continue innovating in the coming years, and September’s edition of Brand USA Travel Week will set the precedent for the years to come, presumably changing the location each year to promote the USA and its peoples to different markets and corners of the world. Remember, if you are interested in attending, registration ends on 31st July!
Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.