International travelers spent $21 billion in the United States in February, a nearly three percent increase over February 2016, that made the first two months of 2017 the strongest for foreign tourism spending on record.

International tourist spending in the U.S. totaled $42.1 billion for January and February, a three percent increase ($1.1 billion) over the same period last year, according to monthly statistics released this week by the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office. Spending in January and February is also a record high for both months.

In January and February, international visitors, on average, were spending nearly $715 million a day in the U.S. that supported 1.2 million American jobs.

Strong spending for the first two months of 2017 follows a year of virtually no growth in spending by international travelers visiting the U.S. and slower growth in international arrivals.

Every month, the National Travel and Tourism Office releases data regarding recent travel and spending activity, including details about inbound travel to the United States. This is the most recent month for which this information is available.

In February, foreign visitors spent some $13.1 billion on goods and services that include food, accommodations, activities, local transportation and souvenirs; $3.3 billion on airfare (a 0.4 percent increase over February 2016) and $4.7 billion on medical, education and short-term worker related travel. Medical tourism and related spending by international travelers in the U.S. was up more than 10 percent year-over-year for February as travelers increasingly travel to the U.S. specifically for medical care and treatments.

February was the first full month of the Trump Administration which began on January 20 and also the first full month following President Trump’s executive order that originally banned citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. that many travel brands fear could have a chilling effect on international travelers visiting the U.S.

Albeit, many trips in January and February were likely booked months in advance before President Trump was inaugurated or elected.

Winter months in the U.S. including January and February are traditionally some of the slowest for international arrivals — depending on the destination — which typically pick up during the summer months of June, July, and August. Because of the strength of the dollar this year, it is difficult to correlate visitor numbers that generate the spending.

Data released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization this week show that increased spending by Chinese travelers in the U.S. last year is a major factor in why international tourist spending in the U.S. remains strong and that’s likely carrying over to this year.

The National Travel & Tourism Office measures international visitor spending in U.S. dollars and spending totals for some markets could be higher depending on currency conversions. Travelers could also be shifting spending to other expenses, such as retail, that isn’t included in the data.

And, as Skift reported last month, not all destinations are seeing a boost in international visitor spending and the coming months will be more revealing in how the U.S. political climate is either positively or negatively impacting international arrivals.

INTERNATIONAL VISITOR SPENDING IN THE U.S. FOR February 2017 ($ MILLIONS)

International Traveler Receipts in U.S. February 2017 February 2016 Percent Change 2017/2016
Passenger Airfare Receipts (5) $3,300 $3,286 0.40%
Travel Receipts (for all purposes including education) (2) $17,800 $17,103 4.07%
-Travel Spending (3) $13,100 $12,845 1.90%
-Medical/Education/Workers Spending (4) $4,700 $4,258 10.30%
Total Travel and Tourism-Related Exports (1) $21,000.00 $20,389 2.90%

Source: U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office

1) Travel and Tourism is the sum of all travel-related exports (or imports) and includes passenger fare receipts and payments.

2) All travel receipts include trips for 1) business travel, including expenditures by border, seasonal, and other short-term workers and 2) personal travel, including health-related and education-related travel.

3) Travel spending includes purchases of goods and services by U.S. persons traveling abroad and by foreign travelers in the United States for business or personal reasons. These goods and services include food, lodging, recreation, gifts, entertainment, local transportation in the country of travel, and other items incidental to a foreign visit.

4) All expenditures for educational and health-related purposes (such as tuition, room and board paid for or provided by educational institutions, hospital charges, treatments, physicians’ fees, etc.) made by students and medical patients. Expenditures by border, seasonal and other short-term workers are also included in this total.

5) Fares received for the transport of nonresidents by U.S. air carriers between the U.S. and foreign countries and between two foreign points (exports), and the transport of U.S. residents by foreign air carriers between the U.S. and foreign countries (imports).

Tags: snapshot, tourism, usa
Photo Credit: Foreign visitor spending in the U.S. is off to a strong start in 2017. Pictured are tourists at Grand Canyon National Park. Ben Clark / Flickr