Coming to America: International Visitors Help Keep America Moving

May 10, 2012

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Julie Heizer is the Acting Director for the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries within the Manufacturing and Services division of the International Trade Administration

This week we’re celebrating National Travel and Tourism Week by highlighting the impact of international visitors on our economy as well as noting how we can attract more visitors to experience our wonderland of sights and attractions.

Last year, a record 62 million international tourists visited the United States and spent a record $153 billion that went to support the economies of local communities, helping to support 1.1 million jobs in our travel and tourism industry.  The U.S. enjoys a $42.8 billion surplus in travel and tourism and has done so since 1989. While these numbers are all records for the industry, there is room to improve. Jazz Musician as part of Brand USA's "Discover this land, like never before" campaign. (Photo Brand USA)

The U.S. ranks just behind France in attracting foreign visitors, hosting 6.4% of the global share of travelers. However, in terms of visitor spending, we dominate the world market with 11.2% of global traveler spending.

According to the most recently released travel forecast (2012-2016) international visitation to the United States is expected to grow between four to five percent in the forecast period. This growth would build on the past two years of record-setting numbers and continue this upward trend.
If the forecast holds true, visitor volume would grow from 62.3 million in 2011 to reach 65.4 million in 2012 and 76.6 million by 2016. This translates into total growth of 14.4 million additional visitors in 2016 compared to 2011, growth of 23% versus the 2011 level, and a compounded annual growth rate of 4.2 percent.

In January, President Obama signed an executive order to further support travel and tourism to the United States and ultimately create jobs. The order established, among other things, a Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness that developed and delivered a National Travel and Tourism Strategy to the White House that will encourage international visitors to come to the United States.

Improving staffing in overseas embassies to process visa applications and ensuring smooth arrival processes at major airports are important steps to attracting a larger volume of travelers to the United States. However, this task is a collaborative effort between the federal government and private industry.

During International Pow Wow, the largest U.S. travel and tourism industry event, held this year in Los Angeles, Brand USA, a public-private partnership whose mission is to promote increased international travel to the United States, unveiled their marketing campaign designed to draw more visitors to the United States. The campaign showcases the diversity of experiences available in the United States in a fresh and unexpected light, inviting visitors to “Discover this land, like never before.”

Through the public-private partnership launched by Brand USA and the increased attention on travel and tourism from the U.S. government  the United States can regain its prominence as a world-class destination and in the process create and retain jobs across the country.

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