Inbound U.S. tourism drops, industry promises action

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to breathe free..."
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The full metrics of inbound travel to the U.S. this year won’t be known until well into 2018, but if those numbers follow the trend of the first half 2017, they won’t be good. For the first six months of the year, the number of international visitors coming to the U.S. declined nearly 4 percent compared to H1 2016, according to data released this week from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Travel and Tourism Office. 

In total, an estimated 33.8 million non-resident international travelers entered the U.S. between January and June of this year, a 3.9-percent decline from the same period in 2016, the NTTO said. The overall drop was even higher in June alone than for the six-month period, with a 6.7 percent decline in June 2017 compared with June 2016.

The downturn evokes concerns voiced earlier this year that President Donald Trump’s anti-foreigner rhetoric and immigration policies could lead to a drop in tourism here. The warnings seem to have been prophetic: The only region in the world that sent more visitors to the U.S. in the first six months of 2017 compared with 2016 was Canada, which was up 5 percent.

Certain countries and regions—those most often criticized by the president—saw notable declines. For example, the number of visitors from the Middle East dropped nearly 30 percent compared to the first six months of 2016. Mexican visitors in June alone dropped 16 percent compared to the previous June, and 9.4 percent compared to the first half of 2016. 

Taking Action

Travel-related industries are already responding to the numbers. “The latest government travel data is deeply concerning not just to our industry, but to anyone who cares about the economic well-being of the United States,” Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, a non-profit organization representing and advocating for all components of the travel industry, said in a statement. Dow also noted that travel is the country's second-most popular export and supports more than 15 million American jobs.

“These numbers are an undeniable wake-up call, and correcting this troubling trend needs to become a national priority. The travel industry will turn over every stone looking for all available policy options to better promote the U.S. as an international destination, and we stand ready to partner with the federal government to grow travel, and American jobs and exports along with it.” 

“The data released by the National Travel and Tourism Office underscores the concerns we have had this year about the international tourism landscape in the U.S.,” Fred Dixon, president & CEO of NYC & Company, said. “As the nation’s number one destination for overseas travel with a nearly 30-percent market share, New York City has been astutely attuned to this vulnerability for quite some time.” 

To counter the negative affects of policy shifts made by the Administration coming at a time of rising competition and a relatively strong U.S. currency, NYC & Company has activated “several global promotions” to protect the city’s “significant share” of inbound international travel, and Dixon praised the USTA’s efforts to protect inbound tourism. “In New York City, tourism is a big business, generating more than $64 billion in economic impact and supporting 383,000 jobs. Our prediction for this year is that NYC could lose up to 100,000 international visitors, the first drop in international tourism since 2009.” 

The White House did not respond to a request for comment from the AP.