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How Discover America Sets Out To Rebrand The Country For Tourists
Photo by Rayon Richards

So long, star-spangled bravado. After the first decade of the century saw the United States' share of global-travel spending plummet from 17.2% to just 11.6%, Congress is initiating a new marketing campaign to give America a makeover. Dubbed Discover America and created by Brand U.S.A., it aims to create a unified, approachable image of the nation—and give a welcome boost, in terms of both money and manpower, to cities that have struggled to sell themselves individually. While the potential economic benefit is sizable—by one estimate, just 35 new tourists leads to the creation of one U.S. job—so are the campaign's challenges.

Problem: Cities compete with countries. "Orlando is a global brand, but without a national campaign, we're up against Egypt, Spain, Turkey," says Danielle Courtenay of Visit Orlando.
Solution:> "Sell the whole, not the parts," says Brand U.S.A. CMO Chris Perkins. Ninety percent of Discover America's $200 million budget will be used to depict a unified U.S.

Problem: Name recognition. "Tourists know one or two U.S. cities. It's the only context," says Perkins. "If they want an outdoor experience, how do we guide them to the right location?"
Solution: Partnerships with airlines create bundle tours offering intelligent pairings that take visitors to gateway cities—Miami, New York—before introducing them to smaller markets.

Problem: These days, communities large (Los Angeles) and small (Mackinac Island, Michigan) are strapped for cash.
Solution: Mackinac Island—a small, vehicle-free town—uses a one-person letter-writing campaign to gain overseas press. Discover America's budget will amp up existing efforts. "It's 1+1=3 in this case," says Perkins.

Problem: Postcrisis recovery. "We had to let folks know case by case that we were open for business" after the BP oil spill, says Mark Romig of New Orleans Tourism Marketing.
Solution: Brand U.S.A.'s crisis approach will match local spending dollar for dollar to assist recovery, and it will employ a hefty social-media campaign to spread the message that cities are safe.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.