AAHOA President & CEO
Each year, foreign tourists flock to our shores to experience our world class cities, view some of the globe’s most beautiful sights, and learn about our unique history first hand. 2017 was no different and surged to one of the most profitable years for international tourism into the U.S. ever. 77 million international travelers came to the U.S. and the positive economic impact cannot be emphasized enough. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, these visitors collectively spent $251.4 billion and helped to support over 1.2 million jobs nationwide.
These numbers are promising and show that the U.S. continues to be a top choice for international tourists, however, it is not the whole story. Other countries are actively competing for preeminence in the global tourism market and, unfortunately, the U.S. is not winning the fight. Out of the top twelve most visited countries in the world, the U.S. is one of only two nations that have declining market shares of global inbound travel, the other being Turkey. According to the U.S. Travel Association, America’s market share has decreased by 6 percent since 2015, while countries like France, Italy, Germany, and China are increasing between 2 and 10 percent. Even more telling is that Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Saudi Arabia are seeing market share increases in the double digits, over 20 percent in some cases.
To put the damage caused by this share decrease into perspective, the U.S. has lost out on $32.2 billion in revenue since 2015. Had the U.S. stayed on a positive growth path this revenue would have bolstered our economy and created an additional 100,000 jobs. At a time when our economy is just starting to pick up speed again thanks to pro-growth tax reform, we cannot afford to lose out on this potential boost to our GDP.
AAHOA’s advocacy team is working hard to combat this trend. As a part of the Visit U.S. Coalition, a partnership of travel, lodging, retail, and restaurant industries, among others, we are a driving force behind the push to make international tourism a national priority to lawmakers. The coalition is urging Congress and the Trump administration to take action on important initiatives that keep tourists flowing into the country. One such program, Brand USA, uses revenue generated from tourists coming into the U.S. to market our country’s destination appeal to travelers around the world. This program is essential for healthy tourism rates, but it is headed straight toward a 2020 expiration date. If this were to happen, we can be sure that our share will decline faster and at greater rates.
Another priority of the coalition is to expand the Visa Waiver Program. This program allows the citizens of certain countries to visit the U.S. without going through the time consuming and costly process of obtaining a travel visa, giving more people the ability to travel here. We can further encourage travel by bringing more countries into this program and broadening its international accessibility.
By strengthening this program and reauthorizing Brand USA, we can reinvigorate the flow of international tourists into the U.S. and begin to grow our share of the market back. To accomplish this, we must encourage our lawmakers to embrace international travel as a national priority now, before it is too late. More people are traveling around the world than ever before and America should and can be the first choice for foreign tourists.