Travel Trends: "U.S. is Tops but Falls Short" — by Lakshman Ratnapala

The Country Brand Index (CBI) released by FutureBrand reveals that the United States is the world’s top country brand for the first time in five years since the Index was launched, rising from third spot in 2008. Yet it has not resulted in greater overseas travel to the country, and 2009 was the eighth straight year in which overseas arrivals fell short of pre-9/11 visitor levels.
According to the CBI report, the United States ranks number one in brand image but remains in the bottom half of countries for “ease of travel” to and within the country. Situations like this pose a challenge to tourism policymakers.
Roger Dow, President & CEO of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) says, “it is past time for our country to make welcoming visitors a priority. These visitors are key to our diplomacy and economy. It’s time for a fair and effective visa system that limit wait times and arbitrary refusals. It’s time for an entry process that is the envy of the world in its use of technology and efficient screening. Our industry can create jobs and strengthen the national image in the world. The onus is on policymakers to work with this industry and tap into the global demand and welcome millions of new visitors to the country”.
The USTA has projected inbound travel to the U.S.A. to increase by 3 percent in 2010, enabling the industry to add nearly 90,000 American jobs, on the heels of 400,000 combined travel industry job losses in the last two years. The U.S. travel industry employs 7.7 million Americans, supporting one out of every eight non-farm jobs in the U.S.  Overseas visitors to the U.S. contribute more to the U.S. economy, spending an average of $4,500 per person per trip compared to about $900 per person for Canadian and Mexican visitors.
Meanwhile in a sign of these recessionary times forcing budget cuts most everywhere, Connecticut has slashed the promotional budget of the state’s Commission on Culture and Tourism to just one dollar for this fiscal year from $4.3 million last year.  The tourism promotional agency will get another lonely dollar next year.
Last year’s budget of $4.3 million paid for producing vacation guides and tourist maps and for a domestic advertising campaign titled “Closer Than You Think” aimed at professional women with household incomes of $80,000 or more in New York.  Those ads — one labeled “Private Walk” showing a couple meandering through a meadow and another called “Morning Rush” featuring children tubing down a river — will be taken off television
This year (2010) domestic leisure travel in the U.S. is expected to increase 2 percent, with a corresponding increase in spending of nearly 5 percent. The projected growth in leisure travel is an indicator of rising consumer confidence and disposable income . Businesses now have a heightened focus on the value and bottom line benefits of travel. Thus an increase in business travel is expected based on pent-up demand for face-to-face meetings that drive growth and productivity.
Lakshman Ratnapala
BATW International Corresponent

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