Wanted: A CMO for Brand USA


There may be a bitter dispute over how to reduce the federal deficit, but that didn’t stop Congress from authorizing the creation of a new entity whose job it is to pump up the USA as a destination for foreign travelers.

The Corporation for Travel Promotion (CTP)  is a partnership between the travel industry and the federal government established late last year. The first funding for marketing will become available in October 2011, part of what is expected to be a $200 million budget. In May, CTP appointed Jim Evans, a long-time leader in the hospitality industry, as CEO.

Its next big hire: the organization is looking for a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) to promote ‘Brand USA’ internationally and improve America’s tourism revenues — and reputation around the world.[more]

“There are many programs and assets that exist within the United States and abroad that employ great talent within our industry, and the CTP plans to utilize these capabilities to enhance our first-ever nationally coordinated marketing program and achieve the highest possible return on our investment,” Jim Evans said at his first press conference. “We look forward to working with all of our stakeholders — including the states, destinations, companies, Visit USA, See America and Discover America Committees, as they are the experts in this field.”

In a related high-profile “Brand USA” job opening, the U.S. State Department is looking for someone to replace former Discovery Communications CEO Judith McHale, when she leaves her position as Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on July 1st.

While the CTP’s CMO will be all about marketing the U.S. as a travel destination, the State Department position “isn’t about marketing,” commented McHale to Ad Age, but rather, “It’s about entering into what we call the marketplace of ideas, and debating and discussing with people and listening to what they have to say, on the theory that that’s the best way to get your message across.”

Both the CTP and the State Department must face the dual challenge of boosting Brand USA’s image and getting more of the world’s recreational travelers to choose the U.S. as a travel destination.

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project tracks the country’s favorability ratings. Over the past ten years (2000 to 2010), those ratings have declined in several countries, including Jordan, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, the UK, and Turkey, while they’ve improved in France, Russia and South Korea. 

It will be no easy task to turn Brand USA around. As the Interbrand paper, “Branding A Country” points out, “Creating a branding program for a country demands an integration policy that most countries do not possess — the ability to act and speak in a coordinated and repetitive way about themes that are the most motivating and differentiating a country can make.”

The CTP is a good start, though — it was warmly received in May at International Pow Wow, the inbound travel industry’s major annual marketplace.

Randy Garfield, Disney Destinations executive VP for worldwide sales and travel operations, said, “It’s long overdue for the U.S. to have a tourism entity so we can be competitive with hundreds of other countries.” Michael Driver, international marketing manager for the Colorado Tourism Office, said, “It’s about time. There are challenges in promoting such a large and diverse country, but we can use [the CTP] as a central pillar” in international campaigns.

Roberta Byron-Lockwood, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Visitors Association in New York state, added, “The CTP’s promotions will have a positive impact on smaller U.S. communities such as in upstate New York, which benefit from increased tourism to major gateways such as New York City.”

Still, it will be a considerable challenge attracting international visitors to America. Despite a projected increase in travel to the US, the CTP says the country’s failure to keep pace with this growth “has cost the U.S. an estimated 68 million ‘lost’ arrivals, “$509 billion in total spending, $32 billion in direct tax receipts and 441,000 travel-related jobs that could have been created or sustained in the years over the past decade.”

Federal budget-watchers are hopeful that the CTP can add some foreign travelers’ currency to the coffers.


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