To Attract Foreign Tourists, Brand USA Turns To ... Rosanne Cash

The U.S. has been stepping up efforts to encourage international tourism, which represents about 3 percent of the country's gross domestic product. The country's reputation abroad has suffered due to revelations about spying by the National Security Agency. But Brand USA, which is running a new ad campaign, hopes to encourage international tourists to visit the U.S. Host Arun Rath speaks with Michael Scaturro, who wrote about the new campaign for The Atlantic.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

NSA surveillance appears to have damaged America's reputation abroad, but the U.S. government is hoping that one person can turn it around. Rosanne Cash.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAND OF DREAMS")

ROSANNE CASH: (Singing) I heard you calling from the start. A river...

RATH: You're listening to a song called "Land of Dreams," and it's the centerpiece of a unique campaign to revive foreign tourism to the U.S. The song appears in a TV ad being aired from Canada to Japan. In it, Rosanne Cash sings beneath the Brooklyn Bridge alongside an Indian sitar player, an African kora player, one big melting pot of a band that plays along. Add a few shots of marching through the French Quarter, frolicking in a field of daffodils, parasailing with bald eagles, and you've got one compelling case to come visit the old U.S. of A.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAND OF DREAMS")

CASH: (Singing) Land of dreams, land of dreams. Come and find your land of dreams.

RATH: The ad was funded by a group called Brand USA, a public private partnership tasked with improving America's chances of attracting foreign tourists.

Journalist Michael Scaturro wrote about the campaign this past week in The Atlantic after spotting the ad on German television.

MICHAEL SCATURRO: We always joke that when you turn on CNN International, you see ads for Incredible India or Malaysia: Truly Asia. You always do see these things for other countries. But the U.S. hasn't really ever had that before.

RATH: And when comedian Stephen Colbert saw the ad, his reaction was swift and brutal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT: It makes us seem desperate like Jamaica or the Democratic Republic of Sandals. And if you're going to make a tourism ad, it should look like this, America, come or don't, we don't give a (bleep).

RATH: The U.S. tourism industry has been spooked by what Scaturro calls America's lost decade.

SCATURRO: Between September 11th and basically 2006, there was a nosedive in the number of visits to the U.S. Those visits only really began to rebound in 2008. And they've rebounded, but the U.S. has a range of new competitors now.

RATH: Countries like Brazil, Turkey, even the United Arab Emirates have been cutting into what used to be a fairly reliable influx of foreign money. And then Edward Snowden hit the news.

SCATURRO: The NSA scandal has been very detrimental to the image of the U.S. The campaign, I think, tries to remind people of the nongovernmental, the nonpolitical sides of the U.S., the cultural experiences you can have there, nature, diversity, those sorts of things.

RATH: Scaturro says there's one major untapped market for American ads, the Arab World, which has produced the biggest number of new tourists, eager to spend money overseas. But Scaturro says, at least so far, Rosanne Cash hasn't made an appearance on Arab TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAND OF DREAMS")

CASH: (Singing) Land of dreams, land of dreams. Come and find your land of dreams.

RATH: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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