Travel Promotion:

Brand USA Needs Plans for Measuring Performance and Updated Policy on Private Sector Contributions

GAO-13-705: Published: Jul 25, 2013. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 2013.

Additional Materials:


Timothy J. DiNapoli
(202) 512-3665


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

Brand USA's global campaign promotes travel to all 50 states through various television, print, billboard, Internet, and social media advertising activities, and its targeted campaigns conduct similar promotions in selected countries. To select countries for targeted campaigns, Brand USA uses several criteria, including volume of visitors and tourism revenue from the country. Brand USA launched targeted campaigns in 2012 in Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom during each country's peak travel-planning periods, and it plans to launch targeted campaigns in these and additional countries in 2013. Brand USA contracts with overseas firms to plan and coordinate marketing activities in targeted countries. In addition, partners help Brand USA promote travel to specific U.S. destinations and establish a campaign presence outside targeted countries.

Brand USA has taken some steps to measure its performance but has not yet developed a plan to monitor and evaluate its promotional campaign's impact regarding two key long-term goals--increasing travel to, and travelers' spending in, the United States. Brand USA has developed metrics to monitor its Internet and social media activity and contracted with a firm to evaluate the campaign's effects on traveler perceptions, which found positive results. These metrics and evaluations do not measure the campaign's impact on international traveler visits or spending. Brand USA officials said that isolating the campaign's impacts from other factors would be difficult, although the corporation is considering approaches for doing so. Without a plan that identifies the specific timeframes, methods, and data sources for evaluating its progress toward its long-term goals, Brand USA may be missing opportunities to optimize its resources.

Brand USA has established policies for personnel, procurement, and in-kind contributions consistent with applicable Travel Promotion Act (TPA) requirements. Brand USA's personnel policies address discrimination and equal opportunity, while its procurement policy requires Brand USA to generally follow competitive procedures to acquire goods and services. However, Brand USA did not competitively award a contract to develop valuation methodologies for in-kind contributions. Experts whom GAO interviewed found the methodologies reasonable but noted that other approaches may provide more accurate assessments. Brand USA officials said the corporation may competitively award another contract after the current contract expires in December 2013. Brand USA and the Department of Commerce established the in-kind contributions policy in November 2011 and have revised it three times since then, most recently in March 2013. However, GAO found that Brand USA and Commerce disagree regarding whether certain types of in-kind contributions that are eligible under the policy qualify for federal matching funds. Brand USA returned nearly $1.1 million in federal matching funds that Commerce had previously approved, but Brand USA noted that it reserved the right to resubmit these types of contributions. GAO's recent work on organizations that receive both federal and nonfederal resources found that formalizing and documenting a process for resolving disagreements between partners, such as Brand USA and Commerce, can enable productive interactions and facilitate collaboration.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 2012, 67 million international travelers visited the United States, spending a total of $168 billion and supporting 7.7 million U.S. jobs. However, the U.S. market share of global spending by international travelers has fallen over the last decade. In 2010, Congress passed TPA, establishing the Corporation for Travel Promotion--which conducts business as Brand USA--as a nonprofit public-private partnership to promote international travel to the United States. TPA requires that Brand USA's annual budget consist of private sector cash and in-kind contributions, with federal matching funds. Commerce reviews Brand USA's requests for federal matching funds and directs Treasury to disburse the funds. For fiscal year 2012, Brand USA received about $50 million in private-sector funding and $100 million in federal matching funds.

This report addresses (1) Brand USA's programs and activities, (2) efforts to measure performance, and (3) certain policies and procedures. GAO reviewed Brand USA documents and data and interviewed officials from Brand USA, Commerce, and private firms as well as academic experts.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that Brand USA (1) develop a performance plan, (2) competitively select its media consultant for the development of valuation methodologies, and (3) formalize procedures for revising the in-kind contributions policy. Brand USA concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Timothy J. DiNapoli at (202) 512-3665 or

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Brand USA concurred with the recommendation and noted the importance of plans to measure the impact of its promotional campaign on increased travel and spending, and stated that it is undertaking efforts to develop plans for measuring performance. In September 2013, the Brand USA contractor proposed using an econometric model to quantify what visitation and spending would have been in the United States apart from Brand USA's promotional activities. In February 2014, the contractor reported the results of its analysis of the eight markets in which Brand USA was active in fiscal year 2013. The analysis measured how the markets would have performed without Brand USA's promotional activities basedon the econometric model the contractor used. The contractor reported that Brand USA's marketing generated 1.1 million incremental trips to the United States--a 2.3 percent increase over the growth that would have occurred without Brand USA's activities. According to the contractor, these incremental visitors spent $3.4 billion in the United States. In February 2015, Brand USA issued its Research and Analytics Summary Approach for fiscal year 2015 (Brand USA's plan for tracking performance) which identified the marketing objectives, types of research, metrics, methodologies, data sources, and reporting frequency for measuring Brand USA's performance. The research and analytics plan includes metrics measuring increases in visitation and expenditure attributable to Brand USA as well as attributable increases in economic impact, which Brand USA plans to measure annually using the methodologies proposed and used by its contractor.

    Recommendation: To strengthen Brand USA's ability to carry out its mission of promoting international travel to the United States, the Chief Executive Officer of Brand USA should provide more objective information on the progress of Brand USA's travel promotion efforts and allow it to assess their effectiveness, especially as it relates to achieving its primary objectives of increasing travel to, and travel-related spending in, the United States, develop a plan that specifies timeframes, methodologies, and data sources for measuring performance and conducting periodic program evaluations.

    Agency Affected: Corporation for Travel Promotion

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Brand USA concurred with the recommendation. In its comments to the draft report, Brand USA officials said that the corporation would competitively award another contract after the current contract had expired in December 2013. In response to the recommendation, in January 2014, Brand USA issued a request for proposal to identify industry experts experienced in evaluating cooperative advertising and trade show activity. To evaluate proposals, Brand USA solicited a description of the valuation approach; examples of similar projects or methodologies the vendor had completed in the past, to the extent allowed; a list of former or current clients for whom the vendor does similar work; biographies of employees who will be responsible for the account; and a budget for the duties outlined in the request's scope of work. According to the request for proposal, all proposals satisfying the requirements of the request would be evaluated to establish which providers best fulfill the needs of Brand USA.

    Recommendation: To strengthen Brand USA's ability to carry out its mission of promoting international travel to the United States, the Chief Executive Officer of Brand USA should ensure consideration of multiple firms for the development of methodologies for determining the fair market value of in-kind contributions, use a competitive process, in accordance with Brand USA's procurement policy, to select firms to help it develop and implement valuation methodologies.

    Agency Affected: Corporation for Travel Promotion

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Brand USA concurred with the recommendation. In June 2014, Brand USA in coordination with Commerce, amended the in-kind contributions policy to formalize procedures for revising the policy when necessary. The amended in-kind contributions policy included an additional section regarding the procedures that Brand USA must use to review, amend, and approve the policy in coordination with Commerce and Treasury. The revised in-kind contributions policy requires Commerce and Brand USA to conduct biannual reviews to discuss ways to improve the policy, including how to evaluate new types of in-kind contributions and incorporate new best practices for valuing in-kind contributions. The revised in-kind contributions policy also requires Commerce and Brand USA to consult with other agencies, including Treasury, about the proposed revisions to the policy as appropriate. Once Commerce concurs with the revisions to the in-kind contributions policy, the policy is submitted to the independent accounting firm responsible for reviewing and verifying the supporting documentation and valuations of Brand USA's in-kind contributions to help ensure that the procedures the firm uses align with the revised policy.

    Recommendation: To strengthen Brand USA's ability to carry out its mission of promoting international travel to the United States, the Chief Executive Officer of Brand USA should improve the in-kind contributions policy and procedures, in coordination with the Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of the Treasury, formalize procedures for revising the policy.

    Agency Affected: Corporation for Travel Promotion


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