Skift Take

The U.S. tourism office obviously spins these numbers in their most positive light, but outside of the several states that saw tourism boom, the data highlights the country's travel trouble spots that need to be addressed aggressively.

Overseas travel to the United States grew 7 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries‘ report Overseas Visitation Estimates for U.S. States, Cities, and Census Regions.

However, several trends suggest that 2012 was actually a poor year for tourism: Travelers visited fewer states, stayed for less time, and the number of first time travelers dropped.

The 7 percent boost can be attributed to the growing tourism sectors of Asia and Latin America more than U.S. marketing efforts or infrastructure improvements. And just as many states and cities posted increases in overseas visitation as those that suffered declines.

New York and California, which accounted for 51.5 percent of U.S. tourism in 2012, each experienced a 2 percent drop in leisure travelers.

Hawaii and Florida, which accounted for another 28.6 percent of visitation, experienced record increases in leisure visitors of 24  percent and 16 percent, respectively.

The significant changes were driven by economic factors impacting source markets. Visitation from Europe, South America, and Oceania dropped in New York while the number of visitors from Central and South America boomed in Florida.

2012 Ranking State 2012 Market Share 2012 Visitation (000) Volume Change 2011-2012 (%)
1 New York 31.3 9315 -2
2 Florida 22.1 6577 16
3 California 20.2 6012 -2
4 Hawaiian Islands 9.5 2827 24
5 Nevada 9.3 2768 -4
6 Guam 4.7 1399 14
7 Illinois 4.7 1399 11
8 Massachusetts 4.5 1399 -6
9 Texas 4.5 1339 4
10 Pennsylvania 3.2 952 4
11 New Jersey 2.9 863 -12
12 Arizona 2.7 804 -7
13 Georgia 2.5 744 11
14 Utah 1.6 476 -5
15 Colorado 1.5 446 0
16 Washington 1.5 446 -11
17 North Carolina 1.3 387 16
18 Virginia 1.3 387 7
19 Ohio 1.2 357 28
20 Louisiana 1 298 n.a.
21 Maryland 1 298 -11
22 Connecticut 0.9 298 -13

Travelers Visit Fewer States for Less Time

The number of states visited per traveler, trip length, and number of first time travelers all decreased in 2012.

A record 70.5 percent of travelers only visited one state in 2012 and the average number of states visited dropped from 1.6 to 1.5. The travelers that only went to one state were mostly headed to Florida, Hawaii, and Guam — the states that saw the biggest increase in visitation.

The average length of stay in the U.S. also dropped from 18.1 nights in 2011 to 17 nights in 2012.

Nothing is more indicative of America’s lack of tourism strategy in 2012 than the statistic stating that the number of first time travelers to the U.S. decreased 11 percent to 6.9 million in 2012. This is particularly telling considering the number of people in emerging economies who started to travel overseas for the first time.

It also means there was an increase in repeat visitors, but they stuck to the usual destinations. As the OTTI report explains:

This reflects an increase in ‘repeat’ visitors, generally indicative of travelers who would venture beyond the top destinations. However, the data show that even repeat visitors have visited fewer destinations and states in 2012, particularly for those visiting leisure and ‘sand and sea’ destinations.

There were some positive signs of growth as the economy picked up. Convention travel increased 63 percent to a record 3 million visitors. And the usage of tour packages that include air travel and accommodations increased 26 percent, driven by the growing Asian market.

Looking Ahead to 2013

The good news is that we can expect 2013 to be better. Although an ambitious plan to skyrocket tourism is highly unlikely to get through Senate, the U.S. has been improving visa processes abroad, easing customs lines at the border, and at least attempting to market the U.S. via Brand USA.

Visitation will continue to grow driven by the expanding tourism economies of developing nations and Asia. And these now more established programs will also make it increasingly easier for foreigners to visit the U.S.

The complete report from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries is embedded below:


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Tags: tourism, usa

Photo credit: An empty street in New York City's Time Square. Jarito / Flickr

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