Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What We Learned at IPW

 Or, One Big Welcome from the Travel Industry

Between June 2- June 7, 2017, more than 6,300 international travel buyers, American sellers and international media representing 70 countries met in Washington DC at IPW. The travel convention, formerly known as International Pow Wow in a nod to the world’s affection for America’s cowboy and Indian mythology, is one of the industry’s largest gatherings; the place to sell the “See the USA” message to foreign tour operators, agents and media.  

Media Marketplace encouraged global media to meet with U.S. destinations.

As hosts U.S. Travel and Brand USA repeatedly remarked, at no time in IPW’s 49-year history is it so important for foreigners to feel welcomed in the nation’s capital

Travel Media More Diverse than Ever

Media were invited to IPW’s opening brunch at the Newseum, a fascinating museum celebrating the 24-hour news cycle, classic print journalism and freedom of the press. 
The booming hiphop of Rare Essence highlighted the diversity of international media voices – who was bouncing, who networked, who sought earplugs -- as much as the universality of music, underscoring the IPW theme of “One Big Welcome.”

Media had one-on-one appointments with destinations at IPW's Media Day

The Value of USA’s Self Promotion

Chris Thompson talked to delegates as president & CEO of Brand USA, the country’s public-private marketing organization whose funding is now in question. His numbers spoke loudly about the value of travel promotion, because Brand USA is already active in the 40 markets that include 90% of all inbound travel to the USA. In the past 4 years, they have seen an increase of more than 4.3 million visitors who spent an additional $14 billion in the U.S., representing an estimated $30 billion in economic impact and 51,000 more jobs. 

Brand USA’s upcoming promotions include a new website that focuses on easing trip planning and a new film about US culture and music, “American Treasures,” hosted by performer Aloe Blacc. Shooting in IMAX, it follows the success of the award-winning "National Parks Adventure," currently showing in 400 markets around the world. Videos about different regions narrated by locals and tagged with #visittheusa are also being produced for social channels. Additionally, we learn that 2017 is a year of US-India Travel and Tourism Partnership, to boost visitation from a country which last year sent the US 1.3 million visitors valued at $11.8 billion.

The Trump Administration’s View of Travel

IPW delegates volunteered with Tourism Cares in a clean up dasy at the National Mall.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross addressed a skeptical crowd at lunch. “On behalf of President Trump,” he said, “I am glad to extend one big welcome to you.” While acknowledging that inbound tourism was dropping, he noted that the high cost of the US dollar was presenting a challenge for many in the audience and suggested that travel sellers promote “some low cost, lesser known but not less interesting destinations” to foreign visitors.  

“This administration recognizes the power of travel as an enabling platform for business, a gateway to education, and a bridge to bring people together,” he said.

After several references to the importance of security, he closed with, “America is open for business, America is open for travel and open to the millions of international visitors who wish us well.”

E-TurboNews reported that Roger Dow praised Secretary Ross’ comments, saying, “In honesty, a number of people probably walked into the room with misgivings about this administration’s views on international visitors, but I’m certain they walked out encouraged that the U.S. government grasps the immense value of inbound travelers.” 

What Effect is the Trump Effect Having?

After several discussions of the IPW message of welcoming the world, and of the US Travel Association’s efforts at keeping America’s doors open to travelers, Roger Dow, USTA Chairman, shared the latest travel research. Surprisingly, it showed that foreign travel to the US is stronger than expected. 

According to the USTA’s Travel Trends Index, April 2017 saw international travel up by 4% over the same month in 2016. 

According to Dow, USTA research indicates that the average international visitor arrives in the United States after 56.9 days of planning, indicating that April 2017 numbers would be the earliest indicator of world travelers' reaction to the administration’s January and February 2017 travel bans. 

Hopefully, April’s inbound tourism results are the beginning of a positive trend. Given all the unwelcoming rhetoric coming from the president, perhaps the industry's “One Big Welcome” message is working, after all. 

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