#OneBigWelcome: 5 Questions With Brand USA CMO Tom Garzilli


Elvis Presley statue Nashville

It’s been just over a year since we last spoke with Brand USA Chief Marketing Officer Tom Garzilli. Travel to the U.S. from other countries has continued to increase in 2017 compared with the same time last year (4% growth in travel in April and 5% growth in May).

US tourism stats 2017

Additionally, the number of international travelers to the United States is forecasted to increase 2.4% from 2016 to 2017 and an additional 4.1% from 2017 to 2018, according to U.S. Department of Commerce estimates.

This is in no small part due to the efforts of Brand USA, which is sparking a desire to travel to the land of the free through a commitment to storytelling and content marketing, promoting America from ‘see’ to shining ‘see.’

Last year, Brand USA’s award-winning documentary, National Parks Adventure, which was produced by two-time Academy Award-nominated producers MacGillivray Freeman Films and narrated by Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Robert Redford, was the highest-grossing documentary last year—not just in the U.S. but worldwide. It also won the “Best Film by a Brand” award at New York’s Brand Film Festival.

Coming soon: America’s Musical Journey, which is set to open in IMAX and Giant Screen Theaters in February 2018. It’s a visual and musical experience that explores how diverse cultures have influenced the unique melting pot that is the American culture. Produced once again by MacGillivray Freeman Films in association with Brand USA, it will be presented by Expedia, Inc.

We once again chatted with Garzilli to find out how his team is driving visits to the US and setting the bar for place branding.

Tom Garzilli = CMO, Brand USA

How would you describe the destination brand your organization has helped create for America?

Our mission is to grow international inbound tourism to the 50 States, five Territories, and District of Columbia, and that is a big and diverse product to be selling to the world.

From a consumer perspective, we’re really about inspiration and storytelling, reflecting our overall message of how coming to the USA is such a welcoming and diverse experience. I would say that, through our marketing efforts, we want you to realize how many different experiences there are and how unique the people and cultures are across America. It’s an overarching theme of everything we do.

Where are the major areas that people are visiting from, and where are they going once they get here?

There are 14 main countries where the majority of visitors to the US come from. Naturally, Canada and Mexico are the biggest producers of visitation of individual travelers to the U.S., and then the biggest overseas market is the UK, with China coming up quickly behind. But many Asian and European countries are big producers of visitation.

The further away you get, the less familiar people are with the country and the more focused their visit on going to “gateway” or iconic places. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago—the major places people recognize from films, music, and popular culture.

However, our efforts overall are to try to get people to move through and beyond those gateways. That’s where tourists can find the places in our country that they may not know about or realize that we have, our great outdoors and our music and culture.

Your previous big screen film, National Parks Adventure, has been very successful. What went into creating that film and the strategy behind it?

We created these platforms to try to do big storytelling around different experiences. One of our big themes is The Great Outdoors, so naturally we decided to celebrate America’s national parks and the creation of the National Park Service.

It’s also a road trip around the country, showing audiences how different these parks are and the things you can do there. It really has been wildly successful, totally exceeding our our hopes and expectations.

It was also the highest-grossing documentary worldwide in 2016. It won five of the six Giant Screen Cinema Association Awards, and it has been seen by nearly four million people around the world. It’s been in theaters since February 2016, and will continue to run for a number of years. We’ve done research, and 81% of the people who come out of the film said they’re more likely to visit the USA, so it helps us in that way as well.

IMAX and other large-screen film formats are the biggest and most immersive kind of visual medium you can create. Nobody forgets it, it’s very powerful, and it’s become a centerpiece of the kind of work we do.

What’s next for this cinematic storytelling strategy?

Our next film is called America’s Musical Journey, and it will be released in February of 2018. Here we’ll move from the great outdoors to the cities. Cities provide the best platform for telling the story of America’s diversity of experience—of food, culture, and music. When you think about our country and its many different areas, each has their own cultures, and therefore the music created by each is just as varied.

From Latin music in Miami to Country Music in Nashville, the Blues in New Orleans and R&B in New York, each is a unique product of its place, and the film will take you on a tour of some of these genres and locations. There are so many genres of music that have been created here in the U.S., so that’s a very interesting part of the story to tell as well.

When the film is released, it will continue to run side-by-side with National Parks Adventure, allowing us to reinforce our story around the diversity the American experience—geographically, culturally and musically.

What do you see as the outlook for the future of tourism to the USA, and its brand?

We are feeling very optimistic about the future of the US as a destination. As emerging markets begin to travel more, they become more interested in the U.S. and the better our story resonates. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and keep finding new tools to tell that story.

We’re looking harder and harder at how we use things like virtual reality and other new technologies, and there are always going to be things we can learn in terms of how to better get our messaging and storytelling out to people.

But I think the message itself has always been and will always be who we are. The freedom, the diversity of experience and of the people of the United States, and it is really is the people here who lend so much to that experience. So while the landscape might change, the messaging remains the same.

Get more insights in our Q&A series and suggest a Q&A via editor@brandchannel.com.

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