International Travel and Tourist Spending in the U.S. For 2012

International tourism to the United States declined to a low of 41.2 million in 2003 as the world became more cautious in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Since that time, the number or international travelers to the United States has increased every year, with the exception of 2009. The blip in the overall upward trend can be attributed to the worst economic downturn in the U.S. since the Great Depression of the early 1930s.

Projections from the U.S. Commerce Department’s spring 2012 Travel and Tourism Forecast, suggest that 65.4 million foreign visitors will travel to the United States, for business or pleasure, in calendar year 2012. That represents a little over a 5 percent increase when compared to the 2011 total of 62 million international visitors.

While it is nice that so many people want to visit America, the real impact of growth in international tourism is the positive effect it has on our economy. International tourist spending in the U.S. reached a record $153 billion for 2011. Combined international and domestic tourism spending provided over 100,000 new jobs for people in the travel and tourism industry. Of the 7.6 million jobs related to travel and tourism in the United States, 1.2 million of those are supported by international visitors.

Tourist spending in the U.S. is spread out in many sectors of our economy. Hotels in top international destination cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles, generate a good portion of their revenue by providing accommodations to guests from abroad. Restaurants, local attractions, shops and the transportation industry, all benefit when there are more tourists in town who are ready, willing and able to spend money.

The U.S Commerce Department report is making some very positive predictions about growth trends through the year 2016. By the end of 2016, it is expected that the annual number of international travelers to the United States will reach 76 million before leveling off in 2017. The approximate 14 million visitor increase represents an annual growth rate in international tourism of between 4-5 percent.

While people visit the United States from every country in the world, the neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico are, by far the two greatest sources of international tourism. In 2011, 21 million Canadians crossed our northern border and spent time in the United States. Mexico was a clear second with 13 million visitors. Coming in third was the United Kingdom, where 3.8 million individuals crossed the Atlantic Ocean on holiday or for business in the United States.

Projected growth in the number of visitors from different regions of the world, during the five year period ending in 2016, will be strongest in Asia. Asia is expected to grow by 49% and will be closely followed by a growth rate of 47% from South America and Africa. The Caribbean region is only expected to grow by about 9%.

Broken down by country, China, with a projected U.S. tourist growth rate of 198% is more than two and one half times the 70% robust growth rate from Brazilian travelers. Rounding out the top five highest expected growth rates are Argentina, with 46%, Australia, with 45% and Korea and Venezuela tied with 35%.

While growth rates vary from region to region and country to country, North America will still represent the largest proportion of the 14 million expected increase in visitors. More than 4.4 million visitors from Canada and over 1.5 million visitors from Mexico will account for 42% of the 14 million foreign visitors over the next few years.

Asia, led by China’s 2.16 million travelers should contribute about 25% of the future growth rate and South America, led by slightly more than 1 million Brazilian visitors, will account for 13% of growth. Western Europe adds 11% and all other countries will represent the remaining 9% of foreign travelers to the United States.

China is perhaps the most important country for giving the U.S. economy a boost from international tourism. In 2011, Chinese tourists spent an average of 11 days in the United States and spent over $7,000 per person while visiting our nation. Conversely, U.S. tourists to China spent an average of 12 days on vacation and spent approximately $2,300 per person during their visit.

It is a very positive sign for the United States economy that more people than ever are coming to this country and spending their dollars here. Canada and Mexico, because of their close proximity to the U.S., will always have the greatest number of tourists. Other areas like South America and China will continue to grow, and Western Europe will send more visitors our way once their economy gets a little healthier.

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