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L.A. counters travel ban with welcoming message

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 19/04/2017 Bart Jansen

© Provided by USA Today To combat a projected drop in international tourists due to President Trump’s travel policies, Los Angeles is launching a new advertising campaign with an inclusive message: “We welcome everyone.”

The video released today conveys that message through street scenes of a diverse variety of people jogging, dancing, painting and skateboarding around the city. Discover Los Angeles, the brand name for the city's tourism and convention board, is embarking on a multi-million marketing campaign of paid advertising in Mexico, Canada, China, Australia and the United Kingdom. The board will also spread the message #EveryoneIsWelcome through social media, including 400,000 Instagram followers.   

“Our campaign is going out to reinforce that our arms are wide open,” Discover Los Angeles CEO Ernest Wooden said of the city with residents from 140 countries speaking 224 languages and practising 110 religions. “Keep the bad guys out, but we want people to know we’re open for business.”

Projections for declining international tourism followed Trump’s two travel orders on January 27 and March 6, which sought to temporarily halt arrivals from at least six countries in the Middle East and Africa. Trump has also called for extreme vetting of inbound travellers from certain countries and proposed to build a wall along the border with Mexico for better security.

Trump and his senior advisers said the orders were necessary to bolster the review of foreign travellers because visas were granted too easily in the past.

“The best way to keep foreign terrorists ... from attacking our country, is to stop them from entering our country in the first place,” Trump told a Nashville rally on March 15.

The World Travel and Tourism Council saw a 4% to 5% drop worldwide in airline bookings and travel searches for trips to the U.S. in the week after the first travel order, according to CEO David Scowsill.

“What happens when these things are executed, instead of being a rifle shot aimed at six countries, it becomes a more generic statement about the US closing down for business and not being open and friendly in the way that it has in the past,” he said.

Tourism Economics, a Pennsylvania company that analyses travel data, projected that inbound travellers would spend $18 billion less in the US by the end of 2018. The “America first” rhetoric and travel changes created a message that the US “is no longer a welcoming destination,” said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics.

Federal courts blocked both travel orders, but the administration is appealing the second order. While the number of people visiting Los Angeles from the six targeted countries is “infinitesimally small,” Wooden said the inhospitable attitude translates to other countries.

“The word ban resonates around the world,” Wooden said. “It’s not the specifics of the ban itself and the people that it’s impacting, but it’s the signal that it sends to world travellers who are contemplating visiting the United States. It accumulates.”

To overcome those projections, Scowsill said the White House needs to make clear that tourists are welcome even as security measures are enhanced. Marketing from individual cities and states needs to be coordinated with the national marketing of Brand USA, he said.

“A coordinated approach between those organisations is very important,” Scowsill said. “But the message has to be supported by the White House in order to cut through.” 

Christopher Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, a federally funded program that markets the country abroad, said providing border security is important for citizens and tourists. But while the U.S. began last month prohibiting electronics larger than mobile phones in carry-on bags of nonstop flights from eight countries, Thompson said visa policies haven't changed yet.

“We’re still in a situation where we’re dealing with perception versus reality,” Thompson said. “We certainly understand that there is uncertainty and questions out there. But our job is to make sure that we promote the United States as the amazing destination that it is and make sure we communicate accurately any policy changes that have been made.”

Despite the strains, tourism groups are putting out a welcome mat.

* Brand USA began a campaign this month called “See How Far You Can Go” promoting a handful of destinations away from the major gateways to travellers in 11 locations: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the United Kingdom. “It does invite them to be the hero of their own USA experience," Thompson said.

* In New York, NYC & Co is spending $3 million to advertise in the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany and Spain to welcome visitors. The move came after Tourism Economics forecast 300,000 fewer international visitors this year compared to last year, a loss of $900 million in direct spending and $900 million in rippling economic effects.

* The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has said it’s too early to speculate on the impact of travel policies, but the destination will continue to welcome visitors through programs such as visa waiver and Customs Preclearance. “We will continue to aggressively market Las Vegas to the world and welcome business and leisure visitors to our destination,” said spokesman Jeremy Handel.

* In Florida, Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel said the international destination remains concerned about "the growing narrative regarding international travel to the US. While currently our research doesn’t show a decline from our core international markets, our marketing efforts remain focused on ensuring we reinforce the value and experience of a vacation in Orlando."

Jonathan Day, an associate professor at Purdue University’s school of hospitality and tourism management, said tourist destinations have been shouldering the heavy lifting of marketing abroad for years before the relatively recent creation of Brand USA.

The U.S. is the top destination worldwide for travel receipts, totalling more than $200 billion last year, according to the World Bank. While politics might raise concerns, Day said the country’s wide variety of cultural and natural resources remain an attraction.

“Travellers can discern the difference between policy issues at a foreign-relations level and the reception that they get on the ground from the local community,” Day said. “You’ll have people visiting all sorts of countries around the world that they probably don’t agree with the politics, but they nevertheless are excited to meet the people or experience the culture.”

Despite its appeal, Discover Los Angeles surveyed travellers for their sentiment about Trump travel policies and then had Tourism Economics gauge how the attitudes might affect spending. The city was projected to lose 800,000 international visitors and $736 million in direct spending.

“We wanted to take a leadership role in trying to mitigate the losses," said Don Skeoch, chief marketing officer for Discover Los Angeles who developed the campaign.

While developing its campaign, the board conducted focus groups in nine international markets and found common interests for millennials in innovation and the arts, whether in Sydney, Shanghai, London or Mexico City, Skeoch said.

To meet those expectations, the video opens with a boy in Mexico throwing a paper aeroplane that floats across Los Angeles, past Dodger Stadium and a shimmering Walt Disney Concert Hall.

As Silver Lake resident Father John Misty sings Real Love Baby, the camera follows the plane past variety of people along the Santa Monica beach, in Venice and at the downtown Farmers Market. Layla Shaikley, who has a house in Culver City and who founded the #mipsterz movement for Muslim hipsters, breezes through on her skateboard wearing a hijab.

By the end of the ad, paper aeroplanes fill the air. “We welcome everyone,” is a message that scrolls at the end in a variety of languages.

“We wanted it to be a metaphor for travel," Skeoch said. “We wanted to show the culture fabric of Los Angeles."

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