Special Report: US industry leaders confident of recovery despite headwinds

US industry leaders are bullish about prospects for the UK and continental European markets, despite inflationary and currency pressures including the fall of the pound against the dollar.

Brand USA chief executive Chris Thompson acknowledged headwinds and said the US industry was monitoring exchange rates and rising living costs closely.

But he said the return of air connectivity tallied with continued pent-up demand and desire to travel meant the UK and Europe were best placed to rebound following the return of the Mexican and Canadian markets.

“People may adjust length of stay or what they do when they travel, but I firmly believe they see it as a birthright, particularly after the events of recent years,” he said.

“I have always said that the path from pandemic to endemic will be a bumpy road, but the diversity of destinations and the value proposition in America will always ensure we have a strong appeal.”

Thompson was speaking ahead of the fourth Brand USA Travel Week, which is being held for the first time in Frankfurt from September 26-29.

The event will include a marketplace for US exhibitors to meet buyers from the UK and Europe, in addition to a CEO Summit – this year attended by 28 destination chief executives – and the event’s first media forum.

“The timing is perfect to come together, renew relationships and assess the future landscape,” he said. “Markets including Asia are still facing challenges, so we are putting a lot of focus and resource on the UK and Europe, which we feel is best-placed for recovery.”

Official forecasts suggest a return to pre-pandemic visitor numbers may not happen until as late as 2025, but Thompson said he was confident the UK in particular would bounce back faster.

Current forecasts suggest 3.8 million UK visitors will cross the Atlantic in 2023 – against 4.8 million pre-pandemic – with a predicted 4.9 million arrivals in 2024 set to surpass the 2019 figure.

Thompson said Brand USA had already reinstated pre-pandemic consumer and trade activity on a “bigger and bolder” scale, having been buoyed by $250 million in emergency funding from the US government in March.

It is also developing a range of new co-op marketing campaigns, creating exclusive video and social media content and continuing to utilise the digital Global Marketplace platform unveiled during the pandemic to engage with the trade worldwide.

“We are as well-resourced as we have ever been and we have been planning for this [travel’s restart] for the best part of two years,” Thompson said.

“We have used the time to assess what has worked well and, while we are still being very measured, we are in a great position to capitalise on that strength of travel demand.”

Celebrating diversity

Credit Visit the USA

Photo: Visit the USA

Thompson’s confidence around the market and the positive influence of Brand USA were echoed by a range of destination leaders, including Elliott Ferguson, chief executive of Destination DC.

Ferguson also hailed the diversity of experiences and communities within the US – a theme which underpins much of Destination DC’s promotion of itself as more than a city of “monuments, memorials and museums”.

“We have always promoted our diversity but we have become more purposeful in terms of our marketing,” said Ferguson, pointing to greater promotion of the range of cultures within the city and an additional focus on “protest tourism” including the creation of America’s first Black Lives Matter Plaza.

The UK remains Washington’s number one international market, and Ferguson said it was a core focus for both the tourist board and the airports authority, which is looking to build on a current peak of nine daily departures to the UK & Ireland.

Speaking of Brand USA’s role in promoting the US, he said: “The US has to overcome perceptions in many areas – crime, security, politics and access among them. Brand USA has done a great job of amplifying the message of unity in that we want to welcome the world to the US.”

Normality returning

Staten Island Ferry, Staten Island, NYC

Photo: Christopher Postlethwaite/NYC & Company

Fred Dixon, chief executive of NYC & Company, said New York had benefited from a swift return of air capacity, with an April forecast of 750,000 UK visitors this year subsequently increased to 801,000.

Dixon said the city had been one of the more conservative in easing Covid restrictions, partly due to the density of its population, but was now seeing a buoyant rebound.

“Things are feeling more and more normal and we think the fall and winter seasons will be strong,” he said. “We are finding new patterns of travel and the city is hopping.”

Like Brand USA and other destinations, NYC & Company is heavily targeting the UK and Europe, with current visitor numbers from the continent around two thirds of pre-pandemic levels.

Dixon said Brand USA Travel Week would play a core role in that activity and cementing trade relationships, with the tourist board no longer having a presence at World Travel Market in London.

“We will continue to run our own trade missions, but Travel Week gives us the highest return on investment,” he added. “There is so much new in New York City, and Travel Week gives us a platform to share that with our trade partners.”

Robust recovery

Credit: LA Tourism

Photo: LA Tourism

Adam Burke, chief executive of LA Tourism, also endorsed Travel Week as a way to engage with trade partners, something his organisation focused on heavily during the pandemic.

“We have had a full-time presence in the UK and Europe for nearly 23 years, and we used the pandemic shutdown to focus on ensuring professional travel advisers had the best possible knowledge to capitalise when Los Angeles reopened,” he said.

“We have seen a really robust recovery in airlift from the legacy airlines as well as low-cost carriers from Europe, and I am confident we will see a full recovery to pre-pandemic visitor numbers from the UK by 2024.”

Burke highlighted a range of new hotels and attractions which were driving leisure business to the city, in addition to the its growing presence as a sporting destination which has seen it host the Super Bowl and baseball’s All Star Game this year.

“The recovery has been faster than a lot of people expected,” he said. “We had a record-setting year for international visitation in 2019, and we are seeing that demand for Los Angeles and the US west coast coming back at a real pace.”

Positive future

Credit Visit the USA

Photo: Visit the USA

Like the west coast, Florida is also seeing a strong rebound from the UK, with the market accounting for 40% of Orlando flight searches for January to April 2023.

Casandra Matej, chief executive of Visit Orlando, said the destination would be targeting the UK strongly in the coming months, with its new Unbelievably Real campaign featuring on television, social media and out-of-home sites after the launch was paused following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

It is also promoting its culinary and outdoor offering to strengthen its reputation beyond the core “foundational elements” of its theme parks and resorts.

“Orlando led the pace for the domestic travel recovery and I think we are seeing the same for international markets,” she said.

“The UK is currently at 63% of 2019 levels, and we are anticipating an even stronger recovery in 2023.”

Like Ferguson, Dixon and Burke, Matej highlighted infrastructure improvements, particularly around international airports, in addition to the Brightline rail connection with Miami which is due to open in 2023.

She added: “We are seeing people looking to stay for a minimum of 10/12 days, so you can enjoy a whole week in Orlando and then explore what else we have to offer. We feel incredibly positive about the future.”

Main image: donfiore/

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