Special Report: Trade has role in sharing message US is open for business

US tourism bosses believe new marketing activity and trade support will help offset challenges to boost travel from the UK. Chris Ellis, director of global trade development for Brand USA, spoke to Robin Searle

Trade has role in sharing message US is open for business

You might expect Chris Ellis to be a touch cautious about the prospects for inbound tourism to the US as the industry faces challenges ranging from exchange rates to mixed messages from the White House.

But despite some obvious headwinds, the director of global trade development for destination marketing body Brand USA remains upbeat.

An expat Brit who has lived in the US for 24 years and worked for Cosmos, Unijet Holidays, Universal Orlando Resort and Visit Orlando, he is certainly well-placed to understand the UK market.

“There’s no doubt we face some challenges from the UK, chief among them being the strong dollar, but we are working closely with our trade partners including receptive operators to continue to get the message out that the US product, experience and welcome hasn’t changed,” he said.

Although official market figures for full-year 2016 are still to be released, most US destinations are anticipating a slowdown from the UK to continue throughout 2017 based on uncertainty around Brexit and exchange rates.

Key focus

However, Ellis believes that a series of launches and campaigns will encourage first-time and repeat visitors, and says the travel trade will have a key role to play in ensuring the US is seen as open for business.

One of the key focuses for Brand USA heading into 2018 will be the launch of its second giantscreen film, following the release of 2016’s America Wild: National Parks Adventure.

The new film, due to be released in February and titled America’s Musical Journey, will star entertainer Aloe Blacc and explore America’s diverse musical heritage. To support its release, a range of itineraries have been created by Brand USA to inspire consumers and the trade, and help operators develop themed programmes.

“National Parks Adventure is timeless and is still popular, but this next film will allow us to focus on another aspect of the American experience that will resonate with a UK audience,” Ellis said. “We continue to talk about the range of product beyond the main gateways, and these films are a great opportunity to showcase that.”

Trade support

In addition to the release of the new film, Brand USA is also planning a range of developments for the UK trade, including a new online portal, more fam trips and expanded content on the USA Discovery Program training site.

“Fam trips remain incredibly important for us and we will continue to host the annual megafam in addition to our product manager fams,” Ellis said.

“We will also continue to host webinars and face-to-face training, and we have plans to enhance the USA Discovery Program and add even more content in 2018.”

He added: “We are also very excited to be launching a dedicated travel trade website at the start of November, which will be a one-stop shop including the Brand USA Trip Kit, links for images, digital versions of our inspiration guides and links to our YouTube content.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a dedicated trade website and should really help agents and operators understand the breadth of product available and give them practical help to sell it.”

Agents to learn more about the US at inaugural Atas Conference

More than 200 frontline travel sellers will learn more about America after Brand USA was announced as the official destination partner of the inaugural Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers (Atas) Conference this autumn.

The event takes place at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre on October 18, and will include training sessions, an immersive trade show and a gala dinner and awards.

Atas was formed in April to showcase the sector to the travel trade, and currently has 25 core members and five associate members.

Brand USA will be the exclusive destination partner at the event, and will educate agents first-hand on the vast array of touring and adventure product available across the 50 states and five overseas territories.

Melanie Latham, strategic director UK & Ireland for Brand USA, said: “We are delighted to be the official destination partner for the first Atas Conference.

“The USA offers a wealth of opportunities for touring and adventure holidays, and we look forward to meeting the frontline agents who have the opportunity to showcase this great destination to their customers.”

Brand USA identifies what’s hot for 2018

Travel Weekly has teamed up with Brand USA on a series of articles that will run throughout the autumn and
showcase some of America’s key destinations in the run-up to the peak sales period.

The first three fortnightly articles will run in partnership with USAirtours, with a second tour operator partner coming on board for the second three features in November and December.

The first feature will appear next week and will focus on multi-centre trips taking in the best of Las Vegas, Utah and Colorado.

Each article will include new products, openings and events in 2018, as well as sample packages to help you book. Readers will also get a chance to win some great prizes by answering questions about the destinations featured.

Chris Ellis said: “We are really pleased to be working with Travel Weekly and our operator partners to showcase key destinations for 2018.

“Our aim is to make it as easy as possible for tour operators to put together itineraries and help travel agents persuade their customers to come or come back to the US.”

Guy Novik, chief executive of USAirtours, said: “We have seen great growth in the past year, particularly in multi-centre bookings, thanks to our unbeatable product, partnerships and sales team.

“In the last year, we have offered more agent fam trips to the USA than ever before, and we are delighted to continue that commitment to improving destination knowledge within the trade by working with Brand USA on its fantastic education programmes.”