Are International Visitors Really Avoiding the US?

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Just a week after his inauguration, President Trump issued the administration’s first travel ban on visitors from certain countries. The ban, along with the president’s campaign statements and stricter enforcement of visa requirements at U.S. borders, have generated some worry in the travel industry that visitors will not want to come to the United States and, incidentally, spend those tourism dollars.

So far, at least, those worries haven’t played out. According to the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Office, foreign visitors spent $20.83 billion on travel and tourism in the United States in January, an increase of 1% year over year. The total included $12.7 billion on items like food, accommodations, activities, transportation, and souvenirs; $3.3 billion on airfare; and $4.6 billion on medical, education and short-term worker travel.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group, overall travel volume in the United States rose by 0.8% year over year in February. The group’s Travel Trends Index includes both domestic and international travel. The domestic Travel Index slipped by one point to 50.4 month over month and the international Travel Index slipped by 2.3 points month over month.

The Travel Association’s senior vice-president for research, David Huether, noted:

It’s important to remember that there is a significant lag time between searches for international trips and when they’re actually booked, and then another lag between bookings and the actual trip—typically a matter of months. There’s a lot of data out there purporting to show a drop in international travel to the U.S. because of President Trump’s executive order, but the reality is we do not have a definitive data picture of the order’s impact yet.

For the next six months, the Travel Association sees 2% growth in domestic travel, but remains cautious on prospects for international travel:

While domestic indicators remain positive, and the prospect of deregulation and corporate tax cuts could potentially boost business investment, the turbulent start of the Trump presidency puts elements of the President’s pro-growth agenda at risk, which could weigh on domestic travel demand. Meanwhile, President Trump’s rhetoric and policies, including travel restrictions and his anti-immigration stance, pose risks to international traveler sentiment, while the stronger US dollar continues to weigh on our competitiveness as a global destination. Despite this slight projected decline in international inbound travel, total U.S. travel volume is expected to grow by about an average of 1.6% year-over-year through August of 2017.