U.S. Travel and Tourism Statistics: Mixed Results

Foreign visits to the U.S. took a nosedive in the years following the 9/11 attacks. This should come as no surprise, as visas were suddenly in short supply, and those lucky enough to get them had to run a gantlet of heightened security measures that seemed to get ever more demanding – and wearisome. Given the circumstances, few could blame officials in Washington for trying to exercise greater caution at the border. Nonetheless, some fault immigration and security officials for unintentionally constricting this important stream of revenue from foreign visitors to the United States.

The good news is that travel and tourism have more than rebounded from pre-9/11 levels, according to an info-graphic that recently appeared in the Washington Post. By 2011, overseas arrivals to the U.S. reached 27.9 million, a healthy increase over the 25.98 million foreigners who came here in 2000. [See Sprucing Up the U.S.A. Welcome Mat, Washington Post, 08.Mar.2013.] In recent months, there’s also been a strong surge in spending by international visitors to the United States, according to David Huether of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), who points to an increase of 10.5 percent since January 2012. [See Travel Continues to Lead Export Growth, Press Release, U.S. Travel Association, 07.Mar.2013.]

Before we uncork the bubbly, though, we should face some chastening news. According to USTA figures cited in the Washington Post, the U.S. is losing market share in the world of international travel, dropping 5 percentage points from 2000 to 2011, from 17 percent to 12 percent. In other words, we could be doing a lot better.

It’s hard not to wonder: could we regain some market share by making our immigration system more welcoming to foreign visitors? Could we reduce the “hassle factor” for international tourists, both in the visa process and at ports of entry? We hope Congress will bear these questions in mind, as the new immigration bill takes shape.

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