Despite predictions by the U.S. Travel Association that international travel to the U.S. would drop this year, its Travel Trends Index has reflected a relatively healthy, consistently growing inbound visitor market. Until now.
The latest index, which included additional data sources to make it more accurate and comprehensive than the previous version, now reveals that international visitation contracted in four of the seven months for which data is currently available. The biggest dips were in February (6.8 percent) and March (8.2 percent). According to USTA, a slight increase in April was likely due to holiday travel.
“We kept projecting drops in international visitation, and they kept not materializing,” says USTA Senior Vice President for Research David Huether. “However, we recently were able to access new data inputs for the TTI to give us an even more comprehensive picture, and sure enough, the international travel segment has been far weaker than what was initially shown.” Oxford Economics, the research firm that prepared the TTI for USTA, added data from the International Air Transport Association and OAG Aviation Worldwide to calculate the update.
Due to a continued strong domestic travel market, the total U.S. travel volume is still expected to grow by an average 0f 1.2 percent year-over-year through January 2018. According to Adam Sacks, president of Oxford’s Tourism Economics group, “Upbeat consumer attitudes and solid labor market conditions continue to support the domestic travel market. However, stagnant wages and the recalibration of expectations regarding the Trump administration’s campaign pledges pose risks to consumer and business sentiment.”
USTA President and CEO Roger Dow reads the updated data as an indication that the U.S. is falling behind in the competitive international travel market. “Inbound travel to the U.S. already went through one ‘lost decade’ after 9/11,” he says. “It took a sustained national policy effort to return to the pre-9/11 level of travel exports, which only happened last year. If we don’t want to give back all of that progress, the time to act is now.” Among the actions he believes will “help right the ship” are for the Trump administration to continue the Brand USA tourism marketing organization and protect the Visa Waiver Program and other policies that enable international travel to the U.S.
View the full TTI report here.