Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: July August 2012
Stay-A-Day See Our USA
By: Michael Bennett

Stay-A-Day See OUR USA is a brand new initiative created by Black Meetings and Tourism and industry partners, Travel Professionals of Color (TPOC) and the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD). The concept is simple; encourage international visitors to the United States to stay an extra day to take in the sites, sounds, culture and experiences of the African-American community.

This 36-month program is designed to piggyback on the efforts of Brand USA and Discover America as they continue to promote international travel to the United States. Stay-A-Day has a secondary mission to encourage U.S. citizens, when visiting a particular destination to stay an extra day and enjoy the African-American experience.

For those readers unfamiliar with Brand USA, and my experience tells me there are many, Brand USA is a public/private partnership signed into law by President Barack Obama as part of the Travel Promotion Act of 2010. Brand USA is the nation’s first global marketing effort to promote the United States as a premier travel destination.

Brand USA has offices in the greater Washington DC area under the guidance of new acting CEO Caroline Beteta. It has a Board of Directors like any major corporation providing overall guidance to the mission.  Brand USA has a $200 million annual budget, and must be reauthorized by Congress in three years. Half of the budget, $100 million, is federal dollars to be drawn by matching funds from the private sector, aka the travel industry and other businesses with an interest in promoting America as a travel destination.

The travel industry and their various partners must come up with $100 million in cash and other in-kind service promoting travel to the U.S. to release the funds set aside by Congress. In the first year, it’s a 2 for 1 match – $50 million to release $100 million. In subsequent fiscal years it will be a one-for-one match. The matching funds are basically an 80/20 split, with 80 percent in-kind services and 20 percent cash contributions. Contributions of both in-kind and cash are well under way, but we must continue to look for more, which is one of several reasons BM&T launched this Stay-A-Day See OUR USA initiative (explained in detail below).

Brand USA is more than just a marketing machine. Brand USA, travel industry partners and government leaders are working on several key initiatives, among them the lengthy and often difficult Visa application process in several countries. As an example, previously, it took 120 days or more for Brazilian citizens to obtain a Visa. Now the process takes less than two weeks.

Brand USA also has several advisory committees such as a business development group and a marketing and advisory group. I actually have the pleasure of serving on the marketing advisory committee. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to contribute and watch the process unfold.

In the short time of our existence, we’ve tackled myriad issues. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t report that there are a few problems as regards to the inclusion of the African-American community, which is where Stay-A-Day See Our USA comes in. As you might imagine any philosophical discussion about promoting the U.S. as a hot travel destination is easy; the actual execution is another matter entirely. We are talking about a comprehensive marketing campaign in multiple languages, adjusting to the seasonality of travel markets and understanding the nuance of messaging to each destination.

Brand USA has identified over 40 international markets in which to promote America. The comprehensive marketing campaign involves all the traditional elements that make up a promotional push such as television, print ads, social media, out of-house marketing and more. Each of the identified markets will be phased in over the next 18 months.

Brand USA already has campaigns going in Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan with several others scheduled to come online soon, including Brazil and China. Early results are encouraging; in the United Kingdom, 12 percent of citizens say they intend to visit the United States. In Japan the percentage has grown to 14 percent.

Joel Secundy, vice president of Strategy and Outreach for Brand USA noted in a recent speech before NABHOOD that research has shown 100 percent brand awareness of America internationally, but just one to two percent clarity on the market. It’s a key indicator of likely travel that Brand USA is working hard to rectify.

And as you might have guessed, we are playing catch-up to other nations and their marketing efforts. The European Union countries spend $800 million annually to promote their destinations. The United Kingdom spends $200 million annually, excluding the Olympics. One of the primary outreach tools is Discover America and the multi-language website

One important caveat, neither Brand USA nor Discover America is in the business of selling travel. Their core mission is to encourage and promote this great country of ours to the world. For anyone in the business of selling travel it is up to sales agencies to make the sale. As mentioned earlier, I serve on the marketing and advisory committee for Brand USA. I have witnessed the monumental challenge of trying to launch this venture. It’s like trying to launch a Fortune 100 company with a 50-year track record overnight.

Challenges aside, the African-American community must reap the benefits of increased travel, yet I see little signs of our participation at this early stage. Part of the problem – not knowing about Brand USA.

I have been fortunate enough to deliver speeches and presentations to local leaders at several events in recent months, primarily African-American groups. Business and government leaders, and even some travel professionals I’ve addressed know absolutely nothing about Brand USA.

Part of the problem is Brand USA and their lack of outreach to the African-American community. Not one of my appearances has been paid for by Brand USA, which is unfortunate. Hopefully, that problem will rectify itself soon. I’ve also seen little coverage of Brand USA in Black media. But I can’t blame Brand USA for everything. As I started to investigate why we were being unintentionally marginalized, I realized we as African-Americans have a serious lack of organized infrastructure to take advantage of Brand USA. Once I explain Brand USA, I spend the remainder of my time offering suggestions on how local communities can take advantage of and/or contribute to the Brand USA mission.

I promise the following will be the only political statement I make. We can’t depend on “trickle down” to satisfy the needs of our community. Yet, we seem to have adopted the approach that the windfall experienced by the greater travel community will some how trickle down to the Black and brown communities. Trust me it will not.

We have a story to tell that people around the world admire us for, but its up to us to sell the African-American experience, hence Stay-A-Day, See OUR USA. Stay-A-Day is designed to support and take advantage of Brand USA. The key objectives include; a revitalization of the overall travel industry, create jobs in the African-American community, stimulate the nation’s economy and expose travelers worldwide to the enormous cultural impact that people of African descent have made in this country.
Stay-A-Day will leverage the assets of the African-American community to the international markets. African-Americans have wonderful brand recognition in a variety of key markets worldwide, yet we do little as a community to leverage those assets.

While I mentioned earlier in this article Stay-A-Day is a 36-month program in keeping with the Brand USA timeline, our ultimate goal is to build a platform sustainable for the long term that can take advantage of innovation to continually reach the international traveler. The Stay-A-Day platform includes a website that Black Meetings and Tourism is in the process of building.

This comprehensive and fully-interactive site will be produced in multiple languages incorporating the cultural sensitivities of local destinations worldwide to encourage not only travel to the United States, but also support the African-American marketplace, by bringing awareness of our products and services to the masses.

The images will be distinctively African-American, yet, have mass-market appeal. It is no secret within the travel and tourism industry that international visitors love cultural experiences. Secundy, during his NABHOOD speech said, “research showed cultural tourism is very popular among people abroad.”

Donna Walker-Kuhne, president of Walker International Communications Group has as one of her clients the famed Apollo Theater. Walker-Kuhne says, “60 percent of visitors to the Apollo are international tourists.”

The Apollo already has an extensive international marketing campaign says Walker-Kuhne, and sees Stay-A-Day as a great tool whose time is long overdue. The Apollo already markets in Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, and Brazil. All of these countries are currently being targeted by Brand USA, and in the case of Canada, the U.K. and Japan, those campaigns are well underway.

Walker-Kuhne says, the Apollo is often the “anchor component” for visitors to Harlem and tourists use that experience to get a taste of everything in the community. The combination of international outreach and a close working relationship with New York City & Company enables Walker-Kuhne to maximize exposure for the Apollo.

Engaging the African-American church is vital to the success of Stay-A-Day. As Walker-Kuhne points out, having the church involved in promoting “tourism from the pulpit,” is key not only to the domestic piece of Stay-A-Day, but internationally as well. Many churches have significant outreach globally and could play a key role in facilitating the success of Stay-A-Day.

Another component of Stay-A-Day will be mobile applications broken down by destination. By using a direct to consumer approach, we can use technology to reach markets that are difficult to differentiate using traditional platforms or Brand USA. It’s a better tool for African-American brand awareness.

Today, there are over 5 billion cell phones worldwide. Half are smart phones fully capable of taking advantage of mobile applications. It’s a market that’s growing 20 to 25 percent annually, not to mention the exponential growth of tablets.

Stay-A-Day See OUR USA will incorporate Social Media into the platform. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and their corresponding brethren in foreign countries are ripe for exploitation with the Stay-A-Day program. Mobile applications, the worldwide web and social media are the fastest way to reach international consumers. Several international destinations are more advanced than the United States in their use of technology. Many didn’t grow up on television and traditional media platforms, meaning we have a better chance of reaching consumers with the income to travel through technology.

The Stay-A-Day platform, when fully developed will also seek out celebrity endorsers where appropriate to promote the African-American market through video presentations and other media. Stay-A-Day is not intended to be a program in lieu of Brand USA, but rather support Brand USA and the local destinations in their efforts to promote the United States and their local communities.

Who benefits from Stay-A-Day? African-American restaurants, cultural and heritage tourism sites, tour operators, travel agents, Black-owned hotels and Bread and Breakfast locations, African-American Chambers of Commerce and local businesses, meeting planners, festivals and special events.

But there’s more. The increase in tax revenues could help replenish cash strapped state and local coffers, and of course jobs. This is an economic opportunity that all communities should embrace regardless of the type of organization one might represent. It’s a win-win not only for the African-American community, but the United States as whole.

This is just the beginning of the Stay-A-Day program. Once some of this infrastructure is in place, steps will be taken to market the Stay-A-Day program. It does no good to create this infrastructure if the consumer lacks awareness of its existence. We will work closely with media, corporate and industry partners to promote Stay-A-Day.

Melvin Tennant, president & CEO of Meet Minneapolis believes Stay-A-Day is a “great idea,” that can augment other international outreach programs such as Brand USA and what Minneapolis does in conjunction with efforts by the state of Minnesota to reach the international tourist. Unlike many of the coastal cities such as New York, Miami or Los Angeles that already have a large influx of international visitors, Midwest and other middle-America destinations continually look for innovative ways to reach international markets.

Tennant and his team are working on a mobile website application as just one more tool in the arsenal, so the Stay-A-Day initiative will further supplement steps his team is already taking. While Tennant manages the CVB of a large Midwestern city with name recognition, tourists both domestic and international, often bypass smaller markets such as Macon, GA about a hour-an-half south of Atlanta on the road to Savannah.

According to Valerie Bradley, Communications manager for the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, much of the international outreach is done through the state of Georgia and she sees Stay-A-Day as a wonderful tool to support and attract new visitors.

She believes social media and promotions are the key. Recently, the state put together a media kit for German travel writers, which prominently features the Macon-Bibb County region. Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival is the signature event held each March. There are more Cherry Blossom Trees in Macon, than Washington D.C., but getting the word out through Stay-A-Day can bring direct brand awareness to the Macon event.

From a tour operator perspective, Larcelia Kebe of Harlem Your Way! Tours Unlimited in New York loves the concept of Stay-A-Day. Kebe says, “the international markets are keeping her business afloat,” and welcomes the international outreach. She has contracts in place with several foreign travel providers who use her services for their clients.

Some of the smaller destinations we spoke with also recommended incorporating FAM trips into the Stay-A-Day platform for international travel and tourism professionals selling the U.S. market. Politically speaking, it would seem obvious our government leaders would embrace Stay-A-Day. But many don’t know the impact the industry has on their local communities, so we must educate them. Every 35 visitors equal one fulltime job that can’t be outsourced.

Elliott Ferguson, president & CEO of Destination DC says Stay-A-Day is a great idea for a host of unique challenges he faces in the nation’s capitol. Much of the international traffic that arrives through Dulles, does not stay in the greater Washington D.C. area, but rather passes through Dulles on the way to someplace else.

Many international sellers of U.S. travel have a lack of knowledge about Washington DC, believing it to be nothing more than a political center.  Stay-A-Day can go a long way towards adding clarity to the international travel agents and consumers to correct this misperception. In addition, it’s a jobs issue for his community, especially in the Black community who could benefit from the increase in international visitor traffic.

Part of the Brand USA business model as mentioned earlier has a matching fund provision. The matching funds provided by government can only be released if the travel and tourism industry provides a combination of cash and in-kind services. Much of the Stay-A-Day platform can help trigger some of the matching funds.

We will be developing this platform with industry assistance. If you have any ideas to better support this initiative please contact Gloria Herbert at Black Meetings and, Mathew Thomas – or myself, Michael Bennett – You can also call Black Meetings and Tourism at (818) 709-0646.