Brand USA Talks Travel: Jackie Ennis

Brand USA Talks Travel: Jackie Ennis, Vice President of Global Trade Development for Brand USA, Talks 2024 Missions, Megafams, and Roadshows.

Jackie discusses her team's busy upcoming year, latest international travel trade trends, and provides details on the recent missions to Mexico and India. 

"There's always something different from one year to the next. We try to think about what has happened in the previous year to make sure that we are capitalizing on the best opportunities for both the partners and for our trade partners in market this year."

Intro: This is Brand USA talks travel, elevating the conversation about international travel to the United States. Here's your host, Mark Lapidus.

Mark Lapidus [0:09]: You've lived in three countries, visited 29 countries, 28 states and DC. I'm curious about what you've taught your kids about the pursuit of travel.

Jackie Ennis [0:19]: My kids love to travel. I think they grew up in a small rural town in northern New England and now they're both living overseas, studying and working overseas. So certainly they have the travel bug. I'm happy that they have the confidence to go and to travel, but it's equally happy that I hope they'll come home.

Mark Lapidus [0:41]: Now, I assume your children were born in the United States, right?

Jackie Ennis [0:44]: Yes.

Mark Lapidus [0:44]: So how long did they have a British accent?

Jackie Ennis [0:47]: They do not have British accents.

Mark Lapidus [0:48]: I know they don't now, but when they were little, didn't they have accents before they went to school?

Jackie Ennis [0:52]: They did. They could very much switch it on and off. They could speak how mom speaks or they could speak how dad speaks.

Mark Lapidus [1:00]: And now they probably don't believe that they ever had it right.

Jackie Ennis [1:02]: Exactly.

Mark Lapidus [1:03]: That's how it works. I'm excited to welcome back Jackie Ennis, Vice President of global trade development for Brand USA. Jackie's had a long career in the travel industry with her most recent positions with the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism and Discover New England. Welcome back to Brand USA Talks Travel.

Jackie Ennis [1:20]: Jackie, thank you very much for having me mark.

Mark Lapidus [1:22]: On this episode. I'd like to focus on Brand USA missions, megafams and roadshows. And even though everybody that works here is very familiar with those definitions, I'm not sure everyone in the industry is. So can we go through them one by one and you can explain what they are?

Jackie Ennis [1:38]: Absolutely.

Mark Lapidus [1:39]: Okay, so let's start with Brand USA mission.

Jackie Ennis [1:43]: Mission. So a Brand USA mission is the opportunity that Brand USA provides to take our U.S. Partners into market to meet with the key tour operators and media in those markets. We identify our key clients, our key operators and travel agents in those markets, and we bring us partners to meet with them in terms of developing business relationships in conjunction with meeting with the one on one meetings. We also do travel agent training on many of our missions and also include either media one on one meetings or media workshops.

Mark Lapidus [2:21]: Typically, how many people are on a mission?

Jackie Ennis [2:23]: Typically? Well, there is no typical Brand USA mission. Actually. It's interesting. And what we've seen post pandemic is a huge rise in the number of partners that are actually joining us. We had record numbers for our Brand USA India mission last week. We had 42 companies joining us. And then this week, also in Mexico, is our Mexico mission for 2024, and we also have 42 partners there. Next month's event in Australia will have actually almost 60 partners joining. So there is a vast variety in terms of how the actual numbers.

Mark Lapidus [3:01]: So Brand USA Megafams are.

Jackie Ennis [3:04]: Megafams are travel agent FAM programs to the United States. They are large groups of travel agents, anything from 30 to 60 agents that come to the United States. We divide those larger groups up into smaller groups, and then they discover a different itinerary in the United States. So typically we have about six groups of eight to ten agents that go and explore a different corner of the United States, and then they come back to one finale destination. And then we use that opportunity to train the agents about all the different places that the agents have actually visited throughout their five night trip.

Mark Lapidus [3:47]: Let's now jump to Brand USA road shows.

Jackie Ennis [3:49]: So a roadshow is a training workshop for travel agents in a target market. We either do them as Brand USA, where we talk about all of the diverse destinations within the United States, to the travel agents and provide resources and training materials on those destinations and the resources that Brand USA provides, and or we bring partners with us on those roadshows. Often those are partners who have representation in a market, and they have native speakers who can join the roadshow and join the trainings and train the agents in those specific destinations. What we're trying very hard to do is also expand those opportunities for the roadshows to destinations who do not have representation. Because in our attempts to try and broaden the product development and the product knowledge of agents throughout a target market, we want as many destinations collaborating in those roadshows as possible.

Mark Lapidus [4:59]: So you just had missions to India and Mexico. I'd love to hear more about those experiences. They're fresh on your mind because they just happened.

Jackie Ennis [5:05]: They just happened, so. Correct. Our first mission for 2024 took place in India from January 21 to 24, and it was our 10th annual Brand USA sales mission, which is fantastic. We had 40 companies joining us this year, which was a record number, and we also decided this year to be in one location. Typically, our sales missions visit two to three cities of a target market, but for an India, typically we have gone to Mumbai, Delhi, and then either alternatively to Chennai and Bangalore. This year we decided that's a lot of internal travel. It's a lot of internal travel for people that have already traveled upwards of 30 plus hours to get to India and then to have to do the internal traveling within the country, which is not the easiest country to travel within. So we decided to keep it anchored in one place this year. And we were in Goa for four or five nights. And I have to say it was great not to have to do that internal travel, but it was also great for the buyers. We recruited 87 buyers who we flew in from 14 different cities around India. And they loved the opportunity of coming together with Brand USA, with the US partners, and having that opportunity not just to meet for ten or 15 minutes during a one day workshop, but then having the ability to have dinner, have an evening where everyone could get to know each other a lot better. And I certainly know that there's something that you potentially miss by not being in those big urban centers and moving around. But there was an awful lot to be gained by having the level and caliber of the tour operators join us in market and have their dedicated attention. So India was fantastic.

Mark Lapidus [7:07]: I'm sure that you learn something different every time you do one of these. Was there anything distinctive this year that came out of that specific mission to India?

Jackie Ennis [7:16]: You're correct. There's always something about a mission that's different from one year to the next. And that's why we constantly try to evolve the format. We try to think about what has happened in the previous year to make sure that we are capitalizing on the best opportunities for both the partners and for our trade partners in market this year. I think what is really noticeable is the huge economic engine that India has become. There is no doubt that the landscape, both on the trade side and on the media side, is transformative since the pandemic. There's an energy and a confidence and a spirit about the Indian market that is truly remarkable. The traveler is sophisticated. It's an fit traveler, it's an affluent traveler, and it's a traveler that is more willing to explore beyond the gateways in ways that we had not seen prior to this year and really last year. So really very interesting changes and transformations that are happening in the Indian market.

Mark Lapidus [8:23]: What about Mexico? You just got back from there. What was that like?

Jackie Ennis [8:26]: So Mexico. We're ongoing in Mexico this week. I had the good fortune just to go down for the day, for the b to B appointments in Mexico City and also travel agent training in Mexico City. And everything was going very well this year. The big surprise for us is that we've actually grown our Mexico mission from 22 us partners last year to 42 us partners.

Mark Lapidus [8:52]: Congratulations. Jackie Ennis [8:53]: So thank you. Yes. And so obviously with that also comes some shifting of formatting and trying to adjust our presentation so that we can accommodate that range and depth of partners. And certainly we saw a great contingency from Utah, from Texas, from California that have not participated in our missions in the past. But so far so good. Everything was going very well.

Mark Lapidus [9:19]: I hear you've got missions planned through July. What's the schedule and are they filled up? I imagine people hearing this that weren't able to participate in these last missions are now curious about how they may do future missions.

Jackie Ennis [9:30]: Yes, we don't operate sales missions to all of our target markets, but we're certainly growing. Last year was our inaugural South America mission where we visited four countries and talk about internal travel. So trying to do four countries in one week was challenging. So this year we decided to par that down to just Brazil and Colombia. So we'll focus our attentions in the month of March on Sao Paulo and Bogota. But what we will do in both of those markets is actually fly buyers in to Bogota and to Sao Paulo. So you'll have a national range of operators that you'll be able to meet with on the south american mission. We currently have almost 30 participants on that mission and that is actually closed now for this year, but watch this space for next year. And we also, later this month, in February, we have our Australia B to B taking place in Sydney. And again, we have record numbers for Australia. That too is also closed in conjunction with the Australia B to B. We have the New Zealand Expos. These are travel agent training events. In New Zealand. This year will be Christchurch in Auckland. We're expecting over 300 agents at these events.

Mark Lapidus [10:51]: Amazing.

Jackie Ennis [10:51]: Yeah. And we have over 55 us partners participating. So those are the two that are most current. Then we look to Canada. We'll be inaugurating our first Canada activity. We're calling it a. It's not.

Mark Lapidus [11:11]: Ooh, I like the alliteration.

Jackie Ennis [11:12]: Exactly. So it's a Canada connect. As I said, it's our first opportunity to take a sales mission like event to our neighbor to the north. Canada is an incredibly important market for us and we really feel that we need to establish a us presence in the market, working with the trade in terms of the tour operators, the airlines and also the travel agent consortias. Registration for Canada is hopefully opening by the end of this month. So watch the space for the Canada mission. And then moving into July, we have our missions to Japan and South Korea. Japan and South Korea traditionally have always been operated together within the same week, visiting just Tokyo and Seoul this year, in honor and recognition of the US Japan tourism year, the Japan Sales mission will be an entire week in Japan. So you'll be visiting first Osaka and then Tokyo, and that will be July 8 to eleven. And then the following week, back to back week, will be in Seoul first and then also visiting Busan in Korea. Both Japan and Korea have had a very slow start to recovery post pandemic, but I'm very happy to say that their numbers are jumping in leaps and bounds. In 2024, we actually finished 2023 and very positively for both markets, Japan is lagging South Korea, but South Korea is actually about 70% recovered on pre pandemic numbers. So we're anticipatory that we will have a number of us partners joining us for those week long missions in both markets.

Mark Lapidus [13:01]: You know what's amazing me, Jackie? You're not reading from notes. How do you keep all this stuff in your head?

Jackie Ennis [13:06]: Oh, that's what I do.

Mark Lapidus [13:08]: Wow. Okay, so let's come back to the United States and talk about megafams on the calendar. I see megafams in Canada, UK, Ireland and South Korea.

Jackie Ennis [13:18]: Yes. So big year. We try and do at least two megafams per fiscal year. So in 2024, we will have two in fiscal 24, we will have Canada in April. So our inaugural Canada megafam is also happening this year. We are partnering with Air Canada and United Airlines and we will be bringing 60 agents from Canada. And this is part of this enhanced effort to really engage with the travel agent community within our number one international market. Canadians know the United States well, but what we have really tried and endeavored to do over the last year is engage with the canadian travel agent community and convince them that there is a way to offer different types of destinations and different types of experiences to the canadian traveler that can be bought via the travel agent. So we're very excited about the inaugural Canada megafam and we will have five groups that will travel all over the United States and then they will come together in Houston. So very excited to have Houston as our finale destination for the canadian megafam. And then moving to September, the end of September, we will have our signature megafam for the UK and Ireland. We'll bring almost 100 agents in collaboration with British Airways, American Airlines and Air Lingus for the first time, which is also fantastic. Air Lingus will be providing tickets from both Dublin to the United States, but also from Manchester. They started non stop direct service from the regional airport of Manchester, and so we'll be bringing agents in from Manchester into the United States on air Lingus for the first time. And we are still finalizing our finale city for the UK and Ireland Megafam. And then just a month later, we will have our inaugural south korean megafam. We will be bringing 30 agents in from South Korea at the end of October, and they will be on four different itineraries. And the finale will be in Seattle. We're very excited about that. This is our first joint venture with Korean Air and Delta Airlines, and if.

Mark Lapidus [15:44]: You weren't globetrotting enough, I understand Brand USA has roadshows set for Australia, Japan and India.

Jackie Ennis [15:50]: Yes, with roadshows we really try to work directly face to face with agents in the tier two markets. So we're still planning our calendar for 2024, but we currently have roadshows in Australia that will be taking place this month to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and then also in Japan. To highlight the US Japan tourism year, we will be having roadshows throughout Japan. We really encourage the US partners who don't have representation in Japan to consider joining us on those roadshows. You don't have to be physically present in the market, but we can certainly work with you and our representative office in market to have a native speaker represent your destination on these roadshows. And then also in India, we have the same opportunity. It's a long way to go to do an Indian roadshow, but in terms of expanding the product knowledge and the development of awareness of your destination, you can always have one of our representatives actually represent you and present on your destination on those roadshows.

Mark Lapidus [17:04]: Jackie, before we go as you speak, to end market reps around the world, what trends are you catching?

Jackie Ennis [17:10]: The biggest trends that we're seeing post pandemic is that people really want to explore the hidden gems. Obviously, traffic into our gateway cities and our big urban metros is very important for international visitation to the United States. And those city stays remain very strong, and people love coming into the gateway cities. But what we're also seeing across the board is that desire to get out of the urban centers, to get into the wide open spaces, to explore the United States on a fly drive, on an fit road trip, a self drive road trip. Campervans are hugely popular. We're actually going to be doing a german campervan fam this year for travel agents because the demand is so high that we want to give the agents the confidence to be able to sell those campervans. But that's not just Germany. It's really across the board markets that typically used to be big motor coach group travel and that you would have a hard time convincing them to rent a car and then travel outside of the cities. Those are the markets where we're seeing the biggest growth in individual travel and self drives into smaller, lesser known areas of the United States.

Mark Lapidus [18:29]: With all this travel, Jackie, how do you sleep? On a plane, right?

Jackie Ennis [18:35]: Usually on a plane. Yeah.

Mark Lapidus [18:37]: Thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. It's always a pleasure speaking with you about this.

Jackie Ennis [18:41]: Thank you so much, Mark.

Mark Lapidus [18:43]: And if you're interested in learning more about everything we've talked about today, and there was a lot with dates and differences between the different segments of what Jackie does, and get details. Or you can just call Jackie. She should be happy to talk to you so you can catch her when she's not traveling. And that's Brand USA talks travel. I'm Mark Lapidus. Thanks for listening.

Outro [19:06]: Your feedback is welcome. Email us at [email protected] or call 202-793-6256 Brand USA Talks Travel is produced by Asher Meerovich, who also composes music and sound engineering by Brian Watkins, with extra help from Bernie Lucas, Nthanze Kariuki, and Casey D'Ambra. Please share this podcast with your friends in the travel industry. You may also enjoy many of our archived episodes which you can find on your favorite podcast platform, safe travels.

Listen to all Brand USA Talks Travel Episodes
Download Transcript of Podcast