A few gratuities for Brand USA

I see President Obama’s plan to increase selective tourism to the USA is about to commence next month with the launch of a marketing campaign called Brand USA, according to this recent New York Times article.

The objective of the Brand USA campaign is to stimulate inbound tourism to the states from a select bunch of countries. According to the NY Times …

“The first three targets are Britain, Canada and Japan, said James Evans, chief executive of Brand USA. Later, the promotion may move on to Germany, France, Japan, Brazil, China and India.”

From my perspective as a marketer operating in the travel industry sphere, I welcome the initiative to stimulate more tourism.  American tourism has been doing it tough over the past decade so a proactive Brand USA campaign to drive inbound visitors can’t be a bad idea.

As a traveller to North American shores,  I would like to offer a few tips gratuities from my experience that the good folk at Brand USA might like to consider when smoothing the way for the floods of new tourists from their targeted countries.

LifeNotes aside: I note that Oz hasn’t been included in Brand USA’s hit-list. Probably because the AUD/USD exchange rate is so favourable down under that at any moment in time there are more Aussies in the USA than in Wollongong.

The following suggestions are in no order of priority and may be difficult to enact in the short term, but if they stimulate social, political and economic change over time, the experience for tourists could only be resoundingly positive.

Brand USA Tip #1: Lighten Up

Yep, the events of September 2001 were truly horrible, but it was over a decade ago and you really need to let go. Surly, over-suspicious immigration officers don’t make for a good first impression.

Brand USA Tip #1a: Stop treating visitors like criminals.

Not only do visitors have to apply for entry to USA online but when we get there we’re finger-printed and iris-scanned like common criminals. Geez, not even the cops in my own country have my fingerprints. Because I haven’t broken any bloody laws at home or abroad. What will it be next? A stool sample?

Brand USA Tip #1b: Try a little hygiene.

If you absolutely, positively insist on fingerprint scanning every new arrival, at least have the capacity to disinfect the scanner’s plates between uses. You’re getting visitors from all over the world. Don’t you know how epidemics spread?

Brand USA Tip #2: Visitors don’t have a ZIP code or Social Security Number

Using a cardholder’s zip code as a credit card security PIN might sound like a good idea, but tourists don’t have a zip code and so get the runaround when paying at unattended terminals such as petrol gas pumps. And insisting on American documentation for ID is just plain dumb. There are much better ways. Think about using them.

Brand USA Tip #3: Tourists tip for service quality

Tourists contribute a lot of cash to the Brand USA economy but resent paying a tip to somebody just doing their job. Tourists tip for for an exceptional experience, and are insulted by the “suggested gratuity” featured near the “total amount” on restaurant checks. Check out this eloquent rant by fellow blogger and traveller Peter Watson over at Wandering Wombat. And who chose the suggested amounts? Starting at 18% and rising to over 30%? Are they really serious? The global standard is 10% – more only for truly exceptional service. And it’s a tip FFS, not a weasel-word “gratuity“.

Brand USA Tip #3a: Taxes can be a shock

Okay, firstly everybody acknowledges the need for taxation. It gets tourist-unfriendly when taxes vary state-by-state and are added on to the price of a product or service. Why the hell can’t taxes be included in a quoted nett price so there are no surprises at payment time? And, on this theme, is tax calculated on the tip-included amount, or is tip calculated on the tax-included amount? Either way, something smells mildly piscatorial.

Brand USA Tip #3b: Pay a decent minimum wage rate

The Federal minimum wage (as best I can determine) is $7.25 per hour or can be as low as $2.13 per hour for workers who earn tips (service industry employees). How the hell can anybody live on those wage levels? Expecting tourists (or any consumer) to subsidise employers’ profits by directly contributing to the wages of their employees might be a masterstroke of free market economics but to anybody outside Brand USA it stinks to high heaven. And it sure as hell ingrains the expectation of entitlement at the expense of incentive to improve.

If you have any other suggestions to help Brand USA ‘s campaign, please share them in the Comments box below.

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