Best/Top US Tourist Destinations

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Best/Top US Tourist Destinations

Tourism marketing priorities and budget allocation vary among the top U.S. tourist destinations, which in this report include the Grand Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Oahu, Maui, Yosemite, Niagra Falls, and Glacier National Park. The visitors and market opportunities each respective tourism authority intends to target differ widely among all the researched destinations. Relevant information about the tourism marketing priorities, the latest campaigns, and spending are detailed for each destination based on publicly available information to provide insight into their marketing strategy and advertising budgets.

Grand Canyon National Park Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • Unlike other many major U.S. destinations, the Grand Canyon is represented by an array of marketing sources rather than a single, unified tourism authority or board: "Promotion and marketing of the recreational opportunities at Grand Canyon National Park and the surrounding area is a combination of public, private, and nonprofit efforts. Key outlets include public and private websites, printed materials available locally and at information centers throughout the region, social media platforms, statewide tourism marketing materials, and national and international campaigns coordinated by the Arizona Office of Tourism."
  • Despite this, this variety of marketing voices have a fairly established image and narrative to market because of how well-known and iconic a destination the park and its natural attractions are, which has allowed the park to work with local partners to distribute informational content, press releases, brochures, and social media marketing without significant financial investment needed.
  • Unlike the park itself, the local communities surrounding the Grand Canyon and the amenities they offer have been the focus of more resources, particularly from the Tusayan Town Council, as Tusayan sits just outside the largest and busiest entrance to the national park.
  • According to a recent press piece from the National Park Service, visitor spending from tourism to the Grand Canyon National Park is spread out among the nearby communities and not centralized to big attractions as it might be for an urban destination.
  • As reported by the National Park Service (NPS), a "peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. The report shows $18.2 billion of direct spending by more than 330 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally; 255,900 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $35.8 billion."
  • A 2017 report on visitor spending surrounding the Grand Canyon backs up these findings, as "most park visitor spending was for lodging/camping (32.9 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.5 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), souvenirs and other expenses (10.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.0 percent), and local transportation (7.5 percent)."
  • Overall, national park tourism in the U.S. experiences significant returns on its marketing spending, and the Grand Canyon's share of that success is driven by both domestic and international tourists.
  • Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Chris Lehnertz was quoted by the NPS, "Grand Canyon is proud to welcome visitors from across the country and around the world... National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it is a big factor in our local economy as well."
  • In light of the tourism impacts of COVID-19, the Tusayan Town Council has recently announced its strategy for future tourism marketing in hope of recovering from the current tourism slump.
  • According to Grand Canyon News, "in recent weeks, the Tusayan Council and the Grand Canyon Chamber & Visitor Bureau have discussed ideas related to marketing Tusayan during the pandemic, and the many challenges it faces. So far, the chamber has assembled a plan, which provides potential marketing strategies through a variety of resources including online as well as print advertising. The bulk of the work would be performed by the marketing company Madden Media, an Arizona-based company, which has assisted the town with various marketing campaigns in the past."
  • Currently, the council has elected to approve these plans, working with Madden Media on a budget of up to $200,000, however, the council has already discussed a second provision to extend these plans "as part of a secondary effort at a total not to exceed $250,000," which will be decided at a later date.

Yellowstone National Park Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • As is common for national park destination in the U.S., nearby communities to Yellowstone National Park seem to spearhead the efforts to draw visitors to the area, and Destination Yellowstone, the tourism marketing organization for West Yellowstone, Montana, has worked to develop a robust approach to drawing tourism from the park to its adjacent community.
  • According to a 2018 marketing planning document outlining the marketing narrative Destination Yellowstone has developed, "as the closest entrance to Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone has identified itself as the perfect location for exploring the Park. Sharing a border with Yellowstone and surrounded on all other sides by the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, the town has become the center for a plethora of activities. Clean air and water, abundant wildlife, scenic beauty and historical reference all have made West Yellowstone a national and international destination."
  • The imagery included highlights exactly the experience and environment that Destination Yellowstone has planned to use to encourage Yellowstone National Park visitors to explore the surrounding area.
  • In strategizing its marketing approach Destination Yellowstone has focused on positioning itself as "Yellowstone Plus," a wonderful and natural additional to tourists' visit to the natural attractions of the national park, "targeting the best markets that will drive in sufficient volume year-round to fill over 2,300 hotel and motel rooms, cabins, condos, and vacation rentals. As a result of the Destination Analysts Study, we learned that the Geo-Traveler spans multiple generations and characteristics, and has now morphed into a general profile of the high potential visitor, with high-value niches emerging including Family Travelers, History Buffs, Winter Enthusiasts and Retirees/Active Mature. West Yellowstone markets fit perfectly into that profile and niches, with the exception that we see more retirees/active mature travelers and international visitors than other areas of Montana."
  • According to its marketing narrative plan, Destination Yellowstone has been resourceful when planning its marketing, writing, "With limited resources, we use our marketing funds to focus mainly on the family travelers and winter enthusiasts, incorporating messaging for active mature travelers into our shoulder season campaigns. With our public/private partnerships, we are also able to penetrate some international markets."
  • As listed in the organization's 2019-2020 Marketing Plan, international visitors from China, Germany, Europe, the UK, and India are key demographics that Destination Yellowstone plans to target, and the members plan to "attract visitors by communicating an image consistent with our long-term vision as a vacation destination and one that places high value on existing assets, amenities and natural resources of the region."

New York City Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • New York City tourism marked a record of 13.9 million international visitors in 2019, and the continued tourism growth the city is seeing has likely been contributed to by the expansive marketing campaigns from NYC & Company, the city's tourism marketing firm.
  • In October 2019, "NYC & Company kicked off its most expansive global tourism marketing campaign to date. The refreshed “Famous Original New York City” initiative is valued at approximately $20 million (USD) and will reach 22 global markets including, for the first time ever, Ireland and Singapore. This promotional effort reinforces New York City’s incomparable welcoming spirit with the iconic Statue of Liberty depicted in original in-house creative that has a distinct and diversified new look and feel. NYC & Company will also soon launch a more personalized experience on"
  • Additionally, this campaign includes a wealth of promotional offers, especially for international travelers: "NYC & Company has strategically partnered with tour operators and airlines to offer packages and flight-only deals driving visitation in the first quarter of 2020. In addition to out-of-home media through an ongoing in-kind partnership with media provider JC Decaux, digital, partner-owned, and paid promotion contribute to an approximate campaign value of $20 million (USD) to date. This week in the United Kingdom, the City’s leading source of international visitation, digital out-of-home advertisements rolled out in collaboration with British Airways. Additional partners include Aeromexico (Mexico), Asiana Airlines (South Korea), CVC (Brazil), El Corte Inglés (Spain), FTI (Germany), HIS (Japan) and SAS — Scandinavian Airlines (Denmark, Norway and Sweden), with more to be announced."
  • Although the 2019 campaign is the biggest NYC & Company has launched to date, the organization has launched a previous iteration of this campaign that was similarly successful and costly in late 2017 launch.
  • The 2017 "True York City" campaign, which was "designed to promote iconic attractions as well as unique experiences, neighborhoods and local businesses."
  • At the time, NYC & Company CEO Fred Dixon explained, "We’re encouraging travelers to New York City to go beyond the selfie, to go beyond their top bucket list, and explore and engage more deeply with the destination,"
  • The True York City campaign, which cost $15 million, debuted "in the U.S. and 16 other countries [using] the phrase “Famous Original New York City” on billboards, ads, Instagram and other social media. A website at launched Monday with video, photos and stories."
  • The 2019 redesign of the previous campaign will still be using the “Welcomes You. Always.” slogan; however "next month, new digital promotion will appear across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube platforms in Brazil, India, Mexico and the UK. In conjunction, visitors will soon discover a new personalized experience on, the official guide for everything to see and do across the five boroughs. Whether they are still considering a trip to NYC or have already booked their travel, this “My Famous Original New York City” personalization hub will help users gather inspiration, plan their visit and navigate the destination, by offering ‘favoriting’ tools and providing information (including in-language content in French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish) in response to their behavior and feedback while using the website. The hub will also offer visitors the option to book New York City restaurants, hotels and attractions directly on the website."

San Francisco Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • According to the San Francisco Tourism Improvement District, "San Francisco’s balanced mix of convention/meetings travel, leisure/consumer travel and business travel means that the city isn’t as vulnerable to swings in any one market as some other destinations. Leisure visitors comprise 60% of all trips to San Francisco. San Francisco Travel’s leisure marketing team has the enviable task of building relationships with, inviting, converting and retaining potential and existing San Francisco leisure travelers."
  • Marketing for San Francisco tourism is led by the San Francisco Travel Association, which, according to its official website, it the largest destination marketing organization in the world: "More than 1,300 Bay Area businesses are San Francisco Travel members, making our membership base one of the largest of any convention and visitors bureau worldwide. Members also make San Francisco Travel one of the largest and strongest business associations in San Francisco. Member companies collaborate with the organization to sell San Francisco as a destination for individual travelers, groups, domestic and international association and corporate meetings — efforts that help make San Francisco a vibrant place to do business."
  • During the 2017-2018 fiscal year, "over $2.4million was utilized to provide convention customers with rental incentives to attract conventions to San Francisco" using San Francisco Tourism Improvement District funds.
  • Additionally, San Francisco has a large international tourist base, particularly among visitors from China, a customer demographic that expanded rapidly with some strategic marketing.
  • In recent years, San Francisco Travel teamed with Beijing-based marketing agency Hylink Digital Solutions to find ways to increase international visits, including social campaigns using mobile apps WeChat and Weibo, which were highly successful.
  • As of 2018, "outbound Chinese visitors represent an increasingly important part of San Francisco’s tourist model, constituting 23 percent of international tourist spending in 2018 (a number that’s expected to grow four percent in the coming year). San Francisco Travel Association (SFTA), which strives to promote the city and its surroundings as a top global destination, is not resting on its laurels or relying on its enviable range of attractions to maintain the city’s upward trend. Rather, the organization, which is partly responsible for eight consecutive years of tourism growth in the city, asked how it could better open itself up to Chinese visitors. And in Hylink Digital Solutions, China’s largest independent advertising firm, the city found an agency capable of answering its questions."
  • In particular, one campaign called the Draw Something SF was highly successful: "The SFTA’s WeChat account encouraged followers to view reimagined versions of famous San Francisco landmarks and guess which landmarks they were. It was a simple game, but it came with a twist — the landmarks were sketched, reimagined, and then put through a “kaleidoscope” which distorted the image... In the space of a few months, “Draw Something SF” was able to generate a 34% increase in bookings from Chinese tourists, 31.6 million impressions on their website, and 88,200 more clicks. On social media, the city’s engagements increased by more than 10 times their average rates from the before the campaign. The success of the Draw Something SF campaign earned Hylink’s creative work a 2019 Shorty Award in the “Best in WeChat” category."

Washington, D.C. Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • According to PR Newswire, in 2018 "Destination DC (DDC), the official destination marketing organization for Washington, DC... announced that the nation's capital attracted a record 23.8 million total visitors in 2018, up 4.4% over 2017. Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of DDC, announced the ninth consecutive record year for visitation to the District, and upcoming sales and marketing plans to promote DC at the organization's annual meeting. "
  • As the steady growth rate of tourism to Washington, D.C. has continued to climb, Destination DC's leaders have begun to focus more on expanding the international range of visitors traveling to the district.
  • On this topic, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said, "With more to see and do across all eight wards of DC, we are proud to continue welcoming visitors from all around the world... Whether you are coming to DC for work or fun, we are a city with something for everyone — from sports and theater to world-class dining and museums. We will continue creating new destinations and giving travelers reason to return, because when our tourism industry does well so do our local businesses and workers."
  • PR Newswire lists the 10 ten places the DC tourists are from as such: "China, the UK, India, Germany, Brazil, Australia, France, South Korea, Italy and Spain. Though overseas visitors only represent 8% of the total number of visitors to DC, international visitors [overseas visitors plus visitors from Canada and Mexico] represent 27% of the visitor spending."
  • However, despite the push to drive up international tourism, Destination DC is still investing in domestic, specifically local, travel, "[announcing] a new advertising campaign to drive local and regional business during January and February need periods, typically a slower period for visitation. The new 'Stay Local DC' campaign launches in November. It replaces the Date Nights DC campaign that ran for 10 years."
  • The campaign centers around emphasizing "the value of a local trip for consumers," as described by Senior VP of marketing and communications, Robin A. McClain.
  • Destination DC has also invested in marketing the district as an events-friendly location, partnering with the Restaurants Association of Metropolitan Washington to "show international travelers the hidden gems of our nation's capital, including and beyond the monuments and museums to its neighborhoods, its music culture, and its ever-expanding culinary scene... [and hosting] journalists or the travel trade, or featuring DC's story in a global marketing campaign... always looking for ways to highlight all that makes DC a world-class travel destination."

Hawaii Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • Although research into the best tourist destinations in the US indicate that Oahu and Maui have distinct impressions among US visitors, the primary tourism marketing firm for the state, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), manages both the state-level and island-level marketing.
  • In 2017, domestic visitors to Hawaii made up 63% of state visitor, 49% of visitors in Oahu and 77% in Maui.
  • Overall, the HTA has been focusing on drawing visitors that are higher spenders, particularly among visitors from the western U.S.
  • Western U.S. visitors make up a majority of domestic visitors and domestic spending from January to August 2018.
  • HTA has also been focusing on marketing channels that would draw high-income, consumers interested in luxury and high-end experiences that could bring additional revenue to the state and its various islands.
  • According to the HTA 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, "visitors find Hawai‘i’s value for the money to be a weak point, suggesting the need to continue to focus on creating and communicating high-quality experiences that justify Hawai‘i’s generally higher prices."
  • Based on the information in the report, HTA has put significant effort into realigning its goals for drawing in less volume of tourists and more high-spend visitors: "Recognizing the increasing impact of high-volume tourism on attractions, sites, and residential neighborhoods, HTA has begun rebalancing our budgets to provide additional support for Hawaiian culture, community activities, and visitor safety. HTA’s fiscal 2020 budget increased spending for Hawaiian culture, natural resources, and community programs by $7.5 million compared to the previous year’s budget."
  • In its 2020 projected budget, HTA dedicated 60.7% to branding alone and 32.4% on community programs (compared to 65.3% and 26.2% for the 2019 budget), with the rest of the budget set aside for tourism research and administration & governance.
  • The organization recently launched two campaigns targeting high-earning visitors from New York City with two campaigns, the "Come Back Better" campaign and the New York Botanical Garden featuring plants and displays advertising Hawaii's natural beauty.
  • For example, recent board presentations the organization has available online indicate a significant investment in B2B channel communications and trade communications, such as travel agents, industry conferences, tactical cooperative marketing, and training programs.
  • Additionally, HTA has begun launching its #ExploreIslandofHawaii social media campaign, on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
  • However, despite the "generalist" approach to some of HTA's high-level marketing of the state, the HTA has also developed island-specific marketing profiles and marketing collateral to use to differentiate its destinations like Oahu and Maui.

    Oahu and Maui Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

    • As part of an overall campaign strategy to emphasize the unique experiences Hawaii has to offer, the HTA developed its 2018 "Hawaii Rooted" campaign, which focused on the personalities and experiences that real residents of each island would share as ambassadors to their community on social media.
    • For each island, HTA developed specific narratives to inform the marketing strategies, describing Oahu with the words, "Energy. Vibrant. Urban. Contemporary. Iconic. Tropical. Cuisine," and Maui with the words, "Laid Back. Leisurely. Social Interaction. Friendly. Not Contrived. Discovery. Small Towns."
    • In 2019, the HTA released a spring update indicating that it had plans to continue and progress the Hawaii Rooted campaign, expanding the personal content onto more platforms, including digital content platforms (Buzzfeed, Great Big Story), TV/streaming advertisements (Hulu, HGTV, Videoamp, Programmatic), Google, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, as well as Traveler and TripAdvisor.

Yosemite National Park Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • Currently, the main tourism marketing firm for Yosemite National Park is the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau, an organization that prioritized reliable tourism sources to market the park successful.
  • According to Terry Selk, the bureau's Executive Director, the brand that the bureau launched in 2017 "embodies the natural majesty of Yosemite and Mariposa County and will continue to receive a high level of engagement across every media platform where it is deployed. Our award-winning website is projected to generate more than 5 million page views. Our consistent international marketing efforts will help ensure a steady flow of valued foreign visitors, many of which travel during our off-season periods, despite obstacles such as a strong US dollar, natural disasters and political concerns."
  • The bureau's 2017/2018 Annual Report highlighted the executive leadership's plans to focus on advertising to Californians specifically, stating, "With domestic visitors making up more than 70% of the visitation to our region, the bulk of our marketing and advertising efforts in the coming year will be focused specifically in key California feeder markets such as the Bay Area, Central Coast, Sacramento and Los Angeles. The greater San Francisco Bay Area has always been and will continue to be our primary target market, featuring media platforms such as radio, print, and digital."
  • Additionally, the marketing strategy for Yosemite has focused on a variety of media to better reach urban, high-income Californians, using advertising platforms such as Pandora Radio, Sunset Magazine, Westerways Magazine, and Bay Area News Group to cover a wide range of the Californian market.
  • The 2017/2018 report also highlighted the bureau's intention to increase usage of digital marketing through "social media...public relations, and ecommunications...[as well as] focus efforts on the website, leveraging the massive organic reach of the url with enriched content designed and paid search engine marketing in order to gain the greatest market share possible and drive bookings to our lodging partners and attractions throughout Mariposa County."
  • Beyond its focus on California visitors, the Tourism Bureau included plans in its report about attracting visitors from foreign countries, which represent about a quarter of Yosemite's visitors each year.
  • To draw more visitors from target countries like Australia, France, the UK, and Germany, as well as Scandinavia, "Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau hosted several trade familiarization tours (FAMS) for travel agents and tour operators to educate them as to Mariposa County’s tourism attributes, with a specific emphasis on the off-season. In fact, we have adopted a policy to not host any travel writer or trade representative during key peak season periods. This year we hosted a total of 161 clients representing more than ten countries. This resulted in a direct spend of $44, Mariposa lodging, dining and attractions."
  • Overall, the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau's projected budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year included 72.3% spending on Sales & Marketing 72.3% (close to $1.4 million) and 19.23% spending on Public Relations 19.23% (about $370,000).

Niagara Falls Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • In the last few years, Visit Buffalo Niagara, " the primary programmatic arm for Buffalo Niagara’s travel and tourism promotion," has focused its marketing efforts and resources on fostering the growth of large-scale tourism events in Niagra Fall.
  • With its 2018 business plan, Visit Buffalo Niagara highlighted the development of newly constructed hotels, large sports events, cultural events, and potential opportunities for city-wide conventions.
  • According to the background information including in the 2018 plan, "in 2016, Visit Buffalo Niagara’s sales team produced solid results, securing 161,680future hotel room nights; booking 538 conventions, meetings, amateur athletic events and group tours and generating 871 sales leads. These efforts will result in $164million in future economic impact. VBN has also been successful in its marketing efforts generating non-local media coverage with a total media value of nearly $3.2 million."
  • Additionally, based on the marketing campaigns VBN has pushed the most recently, including the "Unexpected Buffalo" and "Bring It Home" campaigns, VBN has invested a considerable portion of its resources into its 2018 marketing objective to "Position Buffalo Niagara as a compelling leisure, meetings, sports and group destination."
  • According to the VBN websites, "the Unexpected Buffalo campaign depicted a digitally created buffalo that enjoyed activities around the destination like kayaking the Buffalo River, touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex and exploring Garden Walk Buffalo. Since its debut, the Unexpected Buffalo also established a social media presence, evolving into a Twitter handle and Facebook Messenger chatbot operated by Visit Buffalo Niagara, and developing a personality that interacted directly with visitors online."
  • A study by Texas A&M University on the success of the Unexpected Buffalo campaign "showed there was a high degree of awareness of the Unexpected Buffalo campaign in those key target markets and an increased likelihood among consumers to travel to Buffalo. More than 105,000 visitor parties from those markets spent $1,029 on average per visitor party in Buffalo, totaling $108 million in economic impact in the campaign’s first year. Based on an investment of $1.3 million, the Unexpected Buffalo campaign returned $84 in economic impact to the community for every $1 Visit Buffalo Niagara invested."
  • Other key marketing goals that VBN set for 2018 included:
    • "Continue to strengthen the area’s appreciation and support of the visitor economy, especially by elevating Visit Buffalo Niagara’s credibility with community stakeholders or opinion-leaders and by elevating Erie County, NY’s believability as an international/world-class tourism destination in the eyes of residents as well. This is achieved through integrated marketing communications aimed at locals and carried out by key VBN staff according to Destinations International and U.S. Travel Association strategies."
    • "Develop and secure major meetings/conventions and sporting events for the destination, despite barriers to attracting new business or bookings by implementing creative sales and servicing strategies and tactics such as strengthening efforts to reach local meeting connectors, utilizing regional economic development strategies and in-state meeting/sports event planners."

Glacier National Park Tourism Marketing/Advertising Spending

  • In recent years, Glacier National Park has been successful at raising awareness about its attractions, as it has gained a number of loyal, repeat visitors each year.
  • As described in a local paper, the Missoula Current, "the increase in the Glacier Park’s visitation is not only due to recreation, but also due to the promotion and marketing of the park in other states."
  • According to Jeff Mow, Superintendent, the park had an increase in visitors of 40% from 2015 to 2018, and 72% of all tourists to the park are repeat visitors.
  • The marketing success has been attributed to a number of factors, including several partnerships with local organizations, including local Native American reservations, Montana's state parks, and local non-profits.
  • The main tourism marketing arm for the park is Glacier Country Tourism, "a nonprofit that helps market Glacier National Park as a travel destination to other parts of the United States and partners with agencies to advertise in other countries," and its work has apparently been so successful for the park that they had to elected advertising and promotions in the later summer months in 2018 to reduce overcrowding.
  • According to a fiscal-year 2019 marketing budget submitting to the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development, out of a nearly $1.9 million marketing budget, Glacier Country planned to prioritize the following areas: