Recently President Trump drew the outrage of the outrage-based media when he said the United States should have its own foreign-oriented network
to rival CNN International, one that broadcasts an explicitly pro-U.S. message abroad.
The immediate accusation was that only a dictator (!) would demand such control of their own image. Who else would want control of news media to portray their own image?
(Well, except for the state-run BBC, of course. But let’s not count that kind of precedent if we can throw around a term like “dictator.”)
Now of course Trump wasn’t suggesting that the U.S. should run its own domestic news service, which would technically be propaganda. He was talking about a foreign service, which — given Trump’s background — would technically be advertising.
If that’s what the president wants, he doesn’t need to start a whole new network. The United States already has a marketing network, which could accomplish his goal and help boost our stagnant tourism industry.
Brand USA markets the United States as a destination to international travelers. A public-private partnership established by Congress in 2010, Brand USA promotes travel to the U.S., particularly rural and less-traveled parts of the Fruited Plain.
Supported by exactly zero tax dollars, Brand USA is funded by a small fee paid by foreign visitors approved to visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. A visitor pays a $14 fee, and Brand USA gets $10 of it. Those funds are then matched by private-sector contributions.
The program creates a virtuous cycle: the more people it draws here, the more money it makes, so the more resources it has to draw people here, and on and on.
The current authorization for Brand USA is set to run through 2020, but earlier this year Congress diverted Brand USA’s traveler fees to the general Treasury. Without that money, Brand USA can’t do its job, so Congress needs to put the money back — particularly in the few precious weeks of the lame-duck Congress while the grown-ups are still in charge.
With sinking travel revenue, the U.S. needs to maintain a strong marketing campaign.
Despite the fact that international travel is on the rise, the United States’ piece of the pie is shrinking. From 2015 to 2017, long-haul travel was up worldwide by about 13 percent, but the United States market share dropped from 13.8 percent to 12.2 percent.
That may not sound like a lot, but the ripples from that drop spread out to any part of the economy that benefits from tourism. According to one estimate, that accounts for 7.4 million fewer international visitors, $32.2 billion less revenue brought into the U.S., and 100,000 uncreated jobs.
Apart from some hiccups in the stock market since Democrats won a lot of elections last month, the Trump economy has seen record after record on unemployment and growth — but it would still be better to have more of that than less. Brand USA can help get those visitors coming back here.
And even just a little bit goes a long way.
Brand USA earned an ROI of $27.70 for every $1 spent on marketing in 2017, according to an independent Oxford Economics study. Those are the kind of returns that would make any stock broker’s jaw drop. Brand USA has been a successful, self-sustaining government program (a rarity in Washington, to be sure) but we need to keep spending money to make money.
Now of course critics will say that people aren’t coming to America because the whole world hates Trump, so they’re boycotting us! That’s of course hogwash. Given Trump’s strong dollar policies, currency conversion makes coming here a little more expensive than other parts of the world. But as mentioned earlier, part of Brand USA’s mission is to draw tourists to less-traveled, less-expensive parts of the country.
Los Angeles and New York are too expensive for millions of Americans, let alone many foreign travelers, which is why Brand USA focuses on parts of the country like the national parks with soaring IMAX films.
Given the president’s success as a hotelier, he doubtless understands the importance of good marketing. The rest of the world deserves to see what a great place to visit the U.S. is, no matter what CNN says every day.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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