Brand USA is a marketing organization with one very special client: the United States of America. The company promotes the U.S. as a premier travel destination to the rest of the world through consumer and travel trade marketing, advertising, promotions and special events. Recently, Brand USA was recognized for its marketing efforts with the “Spirit of Hospitality” award from the Destination & Travel Foundation—the highest honor given from the organization. CEO Chris Thompson spoke with Recommend’s Managing Editor, Deserae del Campo, about Brand USA’s programs for the remainder of 2015, new FAM trips for international travel agents, and what this significant award means for the company.
Deserae del Campo (DC): Now that Brand USA has received the “Spirit of Hospitality” award, what’s next for the company and what does earning this award mean to you?
Chris Thompson (CT): That evening was a validation of what we have accomplished in the first five years [of business]—creating and bringing this public and private partnership into existence.
We are in our fifth year of existence and fourth year of operation. We have extended our footprint around the world dramatically to where now we have 12 offices, we’re in over 30 markets, and we’re deployed across multiple marketing channels. Now that we have a chance to be on top of what all of that looks like, the major challenge we have over the next few years is understanding how to optimize that footprint; how do we optimize the deployment of our resources; and how do we continue to create value for our growing number of partners.
When we first started, we had just under 100 partners that stepped up in that first year when there really wasn’t much there, but now that we’re in our fourth year of operation, it’s way beyond hope and promise. We have nearly 500 partners that range from small mom-and-pop businesses all the way up to the major destinations and the major brands that make up the product that is the United States of America.
DC: When it comes to the FAMs that you create for international tour operators and travel agents, can you tell me about a few that are in the pipeline and any that offer interesting experiences, such as a theme tour or a U.S. destination never offered in one of your FAMs?
CT: We piloted the mega-FAM concept in our first year. We got together with British Airways and they brought 100 of their top travel trade from around the UK to the U.S. to experience seven different itineraries; they also partnered with American Airlines. The seven itineraries came through seven major gateways, and we took them on 7- to 10-day itineraries; then all the groups converged in Miami and shared their itineraries together before flying back across the pond to the UK.
DC: Can you share with me any additional programs that are lined up for 2015, and how these programs assist with the growth of tourism in the U.S.?
CT: One program involves us highlighting two pillars of what we are focusing on in this fiscal year, which are the great outdoors and culinary. Those two different themes that we are focusing on this year—the great outdoors and culinary—well, there are three major parts of the great outdoors focus. We have created a content hub that allows us to aggregate original content that we’re initiating, and content that our partners have out there as it relates to promoting the great outdoors across all states, including the District of Columbia. It allows us to aggregate consumer-generated content that we are inspiring and engaging through the social marketing channels.
The second program is happening in August 2016 when the National Parks celebrate its 100-year anniversary. The parks are iconic assets that are much of what people around the world identify with when it comes to U.S. travel. Also, we are producing a big-screen film to debut this fall and during the first part of 2016, which is the year of celebration for the parks. We will be showing the film at all IMAX and big-screen theaters around the world; right now there are about 800 theaters—about half of those are in the U.S. and the other half are located around the world—so it’s going to be a great story in its own right about what to see and do around the United States.
Also, for the second year in a row we will be producing a culinary guide that offers culinary opportunities around the U.S., both regionally and into cities and establishments. We are also producing a series called “30 Chefs in 30 Days,” and that is going to premiere on the Food Network and will focus on 30 chefs telling their stories about culinary opportunities around the country. These are just examples of what we do everyday across multiple marketing channels and how we promote the entire United States.
For a look at Brand USA’s mission, visit thebrandusa.com.