Tourism industry turns to American music to draw international visitors

Tourism industry turns to American music to draw international visitors
Musicians Aloe Blacc, right, and Jon Batiste march along in a second line parade through the streets of New Orleans in a scene from "America's Music Journey," a film intended to promote tourism to the U.S. (MacGillivray Freeman Films)

An Elvis impersonator jumps from an airplane while mouthing the words to "Jailhouse Rock."

A flash mob dances at a busy outdoor mall in Chicago to Aloe Blacc's 2013 hit "Wake Me up."


Salsa dancers shake and shimmy to "Conga" by Miami Sound Machine beneath palm trees in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

These and other musical scenes are played out in a new large-format, 3D movie produced by tourism industry leaders who hope the film about America's varied musical genres will boost international visitation to the U.S.

The 40-minute film, dubbed "America's Musical Journey," premieres Thursday at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It was produced by Brand USA, a public-private partnership dedicated to promote the country to foreign travelers.

"It's a great story-telling device," Tom Garzilli, chief marketing officer for Brand USA, said of music. "It's also what connects a lot of the world to us."

In addition to playing domestically, the film will soon stream online and play in theaters in Mexico City, Paris, Tokyo and Beijing.

It is the second film produced by Brand USA. The first film, released in 2016, featured America's national parks. It was seen by 4 million international travelers in theaters and online, Garzilli said.

A survey of travelers who saw the first movie found that 81% said they are more likely to visit the U.S. after watching the movie, he said.

International visitation started to decline slightly in 2016 and began to drop more dramatically since the start of 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Garzilli blames temporary economic factors for the decline, such as the strength of the U.S. dollar compared with foreign currency. Other tourism industry experts blame tougher security measures to travel to the U.S. and harsh rhetoric about immigrants by President Trump.

"We just keeping getting up every day and telling our stories," he said. "We feel it will work for us."

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