Brand USA troubles

Last week I came across a press release from Brand USA about appointments to its board of directors in December.  The press release was your standard fare, but something about these appointees made me want to learn more about Brand USA.

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Logo courtesy of the Brand USA website

Brand USA is a marketing “company” that “works in close partnership with the travel industry to maximize the economic and social benefits of travel. These benefits include fostering understanding between people and cultures and creating jobs essential to the economy.” – Brand USA website.

From that description of who Brand USA is, you’d probably not realize that Brand USA is actually not a company at all. Rather Brand USA is a U.S. federal government organization “established by the Travel Promotion Act (2009 & 2014) as the nation’s first public-private partnership to spearhead a globally coordinated marketing effort to promote the United States as a premier travel destination and communicate U.S. entry policies, Brand USA began operations in May 2011.”- Brand USA.

The 2014 extension of the 2009 Travel Promotion Act allows Brand USA to operate until 2020.

The core activities of Brand USA are:

Promotion:

  • create programs and platforms that add value for partners that add and support the National Travel and Tourism Strategy
  • work with federal agencies to communicate U.S. entry and security and create a welcoming experience for international tourists
  • lead the nation’s global marketing effort to increase inbound travel to the US
  • enhance the image of the US as a diverse, exciting and premier travel destination

Advocacy:

  • As the leading voice of the US Travel Industry, increase travel to and within the US
  • Advocate for and advance pro-travel policies and remove travel barriers
  • provide authoritative research and networking opportunities
  • leverage the collective strength of everyone who benefits from travel
  • communicate the positive widespread impact of travel to policy makers and the media

 

My Simple SWOT Analysis for Brand USA

I would love to sit here for days making a SWOT analysis (seriously, I would) for Brand USA, but I just don’t have that kind of time.  Instead, I’ll just share a couple of points of what I have found out about the organization that are relevant to current events.

Strengths/Opportunities

  • Brand USA is an advocate for the National Park Service.  The IMAX film National Park Adventure (MacGillivray Freeman Film) was commissioned by Brand USA and presented by Expedia and Subaru; Giant Dome Theater Consortium was a major supporter.

The Good: Brand USA may be able to take advantage of recent public support for the National Park Service as key destinations within the US for both international and domestic travelers. 2016, the centennial celebration year for the National Park Service, was a record setting year for visitors.

The Not-so-Good: 

  • Less Americans take time off for vacations.
  • Lifetime National Park passes available to senior citizens increased from $10 to $80 with approval from Congress in December.
  • International travelers to the US are expected to slow/decline in numbers, meaning less visitors to national parks and monuments.
  • The federal government hiring freeze puts a hold on hiring seasonal employees at the National Park Service and the National Forest Service.  Seasonal employees do important work at the National Park Service during peak travel months, such as grounds maintenance, give tours and handle fires/public safety issues.

 

Threats/Weaknesses

  • The executive order on travel to several countries issued by President Trump last week may decrease the interest in travel to the US by foreign nationals.
  • In light of recent detainment of some international travelers at US airports and the public relations fire storm this brought, Brand USA’s new “Market the Welcome” campaign directed at international travelers entering the US through airports may have to be ditched.  If the campaign has to be stopped or put on hold, this further hurts the public’s perception of wasting tax dollars on public relations.

“Brand USA and our partners can provide the most inspirational and compelling storytelling about our country around the world,” said Christopher L. Thompson, Brand USA president and CEO. “That story begins the moment international travelers arrive in the United States where we have the opportunity to extend the spirit of hospitality to and thank our guests for choosing the USA for their travel experience.” –Brand USA press release, June 2016

 

Conflicts of Interest

I started writing this post last Friday because I was concerned about potential conflicts of interest.  Anytime a governmental agency has corporate partners and board members, there is potential for conflict of interest.

  • Brand USA has been known to host events at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

“Amanda Davis on earning a Train Pass Award due to being the point person for the German MegaFam Finale that was held in Washington, DC.  The whole global trade team was out traveling and she planned coordinated the event with Destination D.C. and the newly opened Trump International Hotel.” –Brand USA

  • Christopher Thompson, President and CEO of Brand USA, is facing allegations of giving favors to Florida’s tourism agency in return for a $9.1 million taxpayer contribution to Brand USA.
  • Board Member Daniel Halpern, CEO of Jackmont Hospitality the franchisee of TGIFriday’s and Brand USA Treasurer and head of Brand USA’s conflict of interest committee, was a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton.
  • Board Member Andrew Greenfield has publicly spoken out against President Trump’s executive order on travel, stating that the order will not just affect travel, but the recruitment and hiring process for all companies, and he expects that after the 90-days of the order is up, there will be more countries added to the ban.

“And that provision could lead to “further restrictions” beyond the seven named countries, Greenfield said. Germany, for instance, might decide that it values its citizens’ privacy enough to withhold their information from U.S. intelligence agencies, he said. “Could you imagine” the disruption “if Germans couldn’t travel to the United States?” he asked.

Whether that would happen politically is another matter, he said. But according to the text of the order, “any country in the world could be included on the list if they failed to cooperate with U.S. authorities in this effort to collect data,” Greenfield said.

 

I believe that in the coming days and weeks, expect to hear more about Brand USA in the news. They will be speaking out about the executive order on travel, communicating about travel visas and trying to save the US tourism industry amidst waning confidence in travel to the USA.  They will be also busy helping the National Park Service.

But, I believe that we are just beginning to see the conflicts of interest that exists within Brand USA.  And that’s the really bad news for this governmental agency.

 

 

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