International Travel to U.S Declines, with Economic Costs

According to travel industry experts and the U.S. Commerce Department, international traveler spending to the U.S. declined by 3.1% in 2017, following a decline in 2016 as well.   International traveler arrivals also saw a 2.1% decrease in 2016, the most recent full year for which numbers are available.

Globally, from 2015 to 2017, long-haul international travel, e.g. overseas trips, increased by 7.9%.  During the same period, of the top 13 international long haul destinations, only the U.S. and Turkey, experienced declines in arrivals.

Decreased international tourism has enormous economic consequences.  According to the U.S. Travel Association,

(i)nternational travel is our country’s No. 1 service export, and 15.3 million American workers depend on a healthy travel industry for their employment.

They go on to note that

(h)ad the U.S. maintained its 2015 market share, it would have received 7.4 million more visitors from abroad and $32.2 billion in additional traveler spending. That translates to 100,000 more American jobs. It is comparable to:

– Opening 25 auto plants —equal to the 4,000-job plant Toyota announced for Alabama in January 2018

– Opening two new Amazon headquarters, which will bring 50,000 jobs to a U.S. destination/city

While a stronger dollar is likely one factor in the decline, some travel industry experts speculate that Trump Administration policies, including the various “Travel Bans”, and pervasive anti-immigrant rhetoric, beginning with the 2016 Presidential campaign and continuing throughout this Administration, may be causing international visitors to travel elsewhere.

A recent Cato Institute analysis of government data indicates that compared to FY 2016, in the first half of FY 2018,  of 48 Muslim majority countries, 45 experienced declines in temporary visa issuance.  The Muslim countries subjected to the Travel Bans (the current version of which bars immigrants, but not most temporary visa travel) saw a 61% drop in temporary visa approvals.   Overall, in FY 2017, the U.S. State Department issued nearly 9% fewer visitor visas for business or pleasure than it did in FY 2016, although the data doesn’t reveal if this reflects fewer people applying for visas, or fewer visa approvals.

To try to reverse the decline, in January 2018 eleven associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and the National Restaurant Association formed the Visit U.S. Coalition. That Coalition will market and promote international tourism to the U.S., educate the public and policy makers about the important economic role of international tourism, and work for policies to streamline visa issuance and to send the message that the U.S. welcomes foreign travelers.

It remains to be seen how heavy of a lift  it will be to reach the Coalition’s goals.  However, if not successful, states such as Maine where tourism is an economic mainstay, may eventually feel the effects.