Skift Take

Typically it's places like Thailand that generate the most buzz for wellness tourism. So it's interesting to see the U.S. gaining such traction in this area.

Visiting a hospital or doctor’s office is increasingly important for international travelers touring U.S. destinations in addition to riding hop-on-hop-off buses and splurging at designer boutiques.

International travelers spent $112.2 billion on travel expenses to and within the U.S. between January and June, a 1% increase over the same period last year.

“That’s a sound increase when you take into consideration the strength of the dollar,” said Carroll Rheem, a spokesperson for Brand USA. “Overall, any growth thus far this year compared to last year is a very solid result given the dollar’s strength. If measured in local currencies (from the perspective of a consumer) from many of our top markets, the 1% growth represents a significantly higher spend. For example, a German traveler would be spending roughly 20% more in Euros this year compared to last year, but it would look flat in terms of dollars due to the change in currency valuation.”

“We do have a reasonable level of confidence that we will be able to reach the target called for in our National Travel and Tourism Strategy of $250 billion in annual spend by the year 2021. To do so, we would need to see a growth in international traveler receipts by 1.79% on average each year until 2021.”

And it’s not lodging or shopping spending seeing the fastest growth. International travelers spent about $22.2 billion during the first six months of 2015 on medical tourism, education and short-term worker expenses, a 10.2% increase over the same period in 2014. This category had the largest year-over-year increase among the categories (see below) the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office breaks out, including international travelers’ receipts for lodging, food and airfare.

Last year both U.S. domestic and international travelers spent $195 billion on heath-related trips in North America, the highest amount of spending of any continent. Susie Ellis, chairman of the Global Spa and Wellness Summit and president of SpaFinder Wellness, Inc., told Skift last year that wellness and health-related tourism essentially began in the U.S. Despite notable growth in Africa and the Middle East, Ellis feels the U.S. is still the country to watch for foreign tourists seeking the full range of wellness experiences.

Between January and June 2015 international travelers already spent more than half of the $220.8 billion they spent during the full-year 2014 even though U.S. carriers’ ¬†airfare receipts decreased nearly 5% year-over-year. U.S. travelers also feel confident spending abroad: Their international spending is up nearly 7% in the first six months of 2015 year-over-year as they spent $76.1 billion on imported travel and tourism-related goods and services.

Below are charts depicting international visitor spending in the U.S. during June 2015, the most recent month for which data are available, as well as an overview of spending during the first half of this year:

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International Visitor Spending in the U.S., January-June 2015 ($ Billions)

International Traveler Receipts Jan-Jun 2014 Jan-Jun 2015 % Change Year-Over-Year
Total Travel and Tourism-Related Exports $110,689 $112,159 1.30%
Travel Receipts (for all purposes including education) $89,119 $91,595 2.80%
Travel Spending $68,906 $69,327 0.60%
Medical/Education/Workers Spending $20,213 $22,268 10.20%
Passenger Fare Receipts $21,570 $20,564 -4.70%

Source: U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office


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Photo credit: International traveler spending on medical tourism in the U.S. is growing faster than other spending categories. Pictured are international tourists at the new 1 World Trade Center Observatory in New York City. Dan Peltier / Skift

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