Incoming business in the USA

Thompson shows optimism, Freeman warns of hurdles

FVW Medien/HMJ
Snapshot from San Antonio: Chris Thompson highlights the diversity of the USA at IPW - and simply smiles away concerns about the upswing.
Snapshot from San Antonio: Chris Thompson highlights the diversity of the USA at IPW - and simply smiles away concerns about the upswing.

Brand USA's Chris Thompson is not worried about the challenges of the USA Incoming: market data, the new campaign and the mega-event year 2026 make him confident. But US Travel counterpart Geoff Freeman speaks openly about current problems.

Aren't inflation, the energy crisis, the expensive dollar and economic uncertainty at home threatening to deter many international travellers from taking a holiday in America, especially in view of the sharp rise in travel costs in the USA? Chris Thompson, President and CEO of Brand USA, shrugs off the question from fvw|TravelTalk: "I am just as optimistic as I have been in my 40 years in the travel industry," he never tires of emphasising at the IPW travel trade fair in San Antonio. There have always been "headwinds", this time there are simply several factors coming together. And with that, Thompson goes back to business as usual.

Unique also thanks to pop culture

After all, the USA is a unique destination: "What distinguishes the USA is diversity. It's the diversity of our geography, the wealth of different experiences, the diversity of our people and our unique pop culture."
„I'm just as optimistic as I was in my 40 years in the travel industry before. “
Chris Thompson, Brand USA

The latter, he says, is often the first point of contact for people with the US; "How did you get to know the country?" asks Thompson of his international audience, "Were you 'On the Road' with Jack Kerouac, listening to 'Walk the Line' with Johnny Cash, or having 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' with Audrey Hepburn?" For many, he says, this has created a desire to simply experience it all in person.

Market data give cause for optimism

Thompson also backs up his optimism with figures: According to a recent Expedia survey, 43% of respondents say they have more travel budget at their disposal, and one in two is interested in long-distance travel.

In addition, flight capacities would reach 96% of pre-crisis levels by the end of the year - with 80 new or resumed flight connections to the USA. New hotels with a total of 154,000 rooms are currently being built. And with the abolition of the vaccination requirement on 12 May, the last Corona restriction has now fallen.

Full recovery as early as 2024?

Thompson is therefore confident that the USA will reach pre-crisis levels as early as 2024 - and not only in 2025 as in the "official" forecasts. To achieve this, Brand USA wants to further expand and push its Road Trips series on the one hand: concrete route suggestions that include bestsellers as well as lesser-known travel regions.

Secondly, the marketing organisation launched the "This is where it's at" campaign in ten key markets. The core message is that no matter what travel experience you are looking for, you can find it in the USA. Here's a 30-second ad on adventure:

And the best is yet to come, Thompson directs his gaze ahead: in 2026, the United States will celebrate three major events at once – the country will be 250 years old, the legendary Route 66 will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and the World Cup with twelve venues in the USA will focus global attention on the country.

Freeman speaks plainly

So everything is in the green? Not at all. Geoff Freeman speaks frankly about the problems of the US travel industry. The new president and CEO of the US Travel Association, who replaced long-time chief lobbyist Roger Dow almost a year ago, names several hurdles that threaten US competitiveness.
For the first time as US travel chief on the big IPW stage: Geoff Freeman.
FVW Medien/HMJ
For the first time as US travel chief on the big IPW stage: Geoff Freeman.

According to Freeman, visa waiting times for visitors from countries that do not fall under the visa waiver exception, such as the EU states, are still unbearably long: 500 days on average in important source markets – 647 days in Mexico, 527 days in Brazil, 406 days in India. "They wait, we lose" is why US Travel warns of the economic consequences, documents the waiting times on and appeals to the government to remedy the situation.

Improve entry and flight experience

Freeman also calls for improvements in the entry process: In April, people entering the country had to wait on average more than an hour at passport control – no wonder given the staff shortage. However, it is not only necessary to hire new staff, but also to automate the controls more strongly and/or to relocate them to the country of departure - the preclearance procedure currently only exists in Europe in Dublin.

For the third point, improving the flight experience, US Travel has developed a ten-year vision. According to Freeman, this involves, among other things, pushing biometric processes to facilitate Trusted Travellers.

But Freeman also affirms that the flight chaos of last summer should not be repeated. "I'm worried about this summer. His appeal to the airline industry: "Get a grip on the problem, then we won't need to talk about fees and penalties!"

Stronger voice – but not on gun violence

At least, there seems to be some progress to report: For the first time, there is to be an Assistant Secretary of Travel and Tourism. "That's a win for the industry," Freeman is pleased to say. This is far from a tourism minister, but at least the measure should make the travel industry's voice heard more strongly in Washington DC.
„Public safety and travel go hand in hand. “
Geoff Freeman, US Travel Association

However, like his predecessor Dow, Freeman does not actively address a point that actually belongs on the agenda of the lobby association US Travel: gun violence in the USA and the almost daily reports of rampage killings that are likely to scare off many a potential holidaymaker. "Public safety and travel go hand in hand," he explains when asked, without being specific. For a chief lobbyist, that's a little thin on the ground.