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A recent three-city Visit USA roadshow gave Aussie agents the chance to learn about the latest product news across the States from 80 visiting suppliers.

In an exclusive interview with Traveltalk, CAROLINE DAVIDSON, President of Visit USA, explains why we can’t get enough of Uncle Sam.

Q: The Visit USA roadshow was a great success and a clear indication that the States are still a massive drawcard.

A: We were quite astonished to see how much the bounce back was being supported and with such enthusiasm. It remains to be seen if that carries through to consumers but it’s a great start.

Q: There’s some encouraging news out of the States about visitor levels from Australia?

A: We are forecasting a 23 per cent increase this year and in 2025 we are hoping to surpass pre-pandemic levels. I think that’s a really good objective to have and realistic.

There has been a little bit of softening in sentiment towards the USA because of the economy, people tightening their belts and the fact airfares haven’t come down as much as people would like.

On the plus side, the interest and intent is still there and I think there’s still a very cashed up part of society that, even if they are going to tighten their belts, they’re going to spend that tightening on travel, not on savings, and we love the sound of that.

The wholesaler channels have contracted as well but new ones are opening up so we are quietly optimistic. All we can go on is the proper intel we’re getting from the industry and that is positive all the way.

Q: The number of Aussies visiting the USA is forecast to be 954,000 this year and hopefully cracking the one million mark in 2025.

A: Pre-pandemic we hit the 1.3m mark and next year we’re hoping for at least 1.06m but it’s very much allied to the amount of air lift available. As of last September, we were back to about 70 per cent of pre-COVID levels.

Q: Do you think the upcoming U.S. election and the possible outcome of that will have any effect on Aussies travelling there?

A: A lot of people are very polarised about politics but when it comes to ‘will I take my kids to Disneyland if X person is elected’ it really doesn’t translate.

There’s a big separation between taking a campervan and going through the national parks or taking your partner to New York to caring about the politics that are going to be ongoing. You’re really only there for the blink of an eye.

Q: Why do you think there are such enduring ties between the two countries?

A: I think it goes back almost 30 years ago when America became flavour of the month and we started to get American franchises and restaurants here. We’ve always been a little bit in thrall of the U.S. with their culture, movies, TV series and music.

Back then people had the money to go travelling and they found a country that was full of incredible tourism experiences. And once they went, they realised that was just the tip of the iceberg.

So they went back because they felt comfortable, the locals spoke the same language and they had that affinity with the culture.

Q: How important is the Aussie market to America?

A: We’re now back at number 10 in terms of overseas visitation to America. They know that Australians love to – and have to – travel long haul so we’re going to be repeat visitors so why wouldn’t they keep marketing to us?

Q: And are travel agents still part of their marketing plans?

A: Brand USA have done the research and they’ve established that travel agents are still incredibly relevant. And the response we get from marketers across the U.S. is exactly the same.

After the pandemic a lot of people left the industry so there’s been a whole group of new people come in. So, training these agents and giving them the awareness, knowledge and background about what’s available in the States is really important.

Q: What is it about the USA that appeals to you so much?

A: I love visiting the USA, I always have. I actually went to school in San Diego for a short while so I have big ties to America. I’m also a keen skier so love visiting the USA in any season.

The country is a joy to visit and it’s a never ending well of travel inspiration.

# Caroline’s company, Davidson Communications, represents the Great American West States (Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming) in AU & NZ plus the ski resort Big Sky, Montana.