Skift Take

We won't call it a Trump bump but we do see some kind of increase occurring in international visitor spending so far this year. But spending seems to be down since February. The Summer travel season should provide more clarity.

International travelers spent $20.8 billion on travel to and within the United States in April, more than a three percent increase over April 2016.

The first four months of 2017 are the highest for foreign tourism spending on record.

The National Travel & Tourism Office, which released the latest tallies, sought to politicize the numbers, highlighting them in a press release headline: “‘Trump Bump’ continues for fourth consecutive month with record-setting exports year to date.”

While some travel companies express concerns that the U.S. stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in travel spending this year because of the President Trump’s rhetoric and actions, the U.S. Travel Association hasn’t seen signs of a downturn.

“Our economists have not yet fully reviewed the Commerce Department figures, but our own data shows a sustained strong demand for international travel to the U.S.,” Chris Kennedy, senior director of strategic communications for the U.S. Travel Association, said Friday. “We were bracing for a downturn based on claims from some quarters of a measurable impact from the president’s executive orders, but our model is designed to be comprehensive and balanced, and is telling us that the American travel market is robust and resilient.”

The U.S. Supreme Court this week upheld elements of Trump’s ban on travel from certain Muslim-majority countries pending a hearing in October.

The travel industry has plenty to be uncertain about these days, from Brexit and political uncertainties to currency volatility and terrorism, but international visitor spending in the U.S. appears to be on a favorable track if these numbers are credible.

International tourist spending in the U.S. totaled $83.4 billion from January to April, about a 2.5 percent increase ($2 billion) over the same period last year, according to estimates released this week by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Office.

Spending for each of the four months was also at record highs.

From January to April, international visitors’ spending averaged nearly $700 million per day in the U.S. That spending is estimated to have directly supported 1.2 million American jobs.

Strong spending for the first four 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.

In April, foreign visitors spent some $13 billion on goods and services that include food, accommodations, activities, local transportation and souvenirs and $3.2 billion on airfare (a 0.5 percent increase over April 2016).

Passenger fare receipts accounted for 15 percent of total international arrival spending in the U.S. in April. “As fuel prices continue to gravitate upward so, too, should passenger fares receipts from international visitors and these fares will once again contribute favorably to our balance of trade,” the National Travel and Tourism Office said in a statement.

International visitors also spent some $4.6 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 nine percent year-over-year in April as travelers increasingly travel to the U.S. specifically for medical care and treatments.

Medical tourism, education, and short-term worker receipts accounted for 22 percent of international visitors’ spending in the U.S. in April.

While spending is up year-over-year in every category in April, travel receipts are down about 1.1 percent since February. Typically, February is a slower month for international travel and April is the start of the summer travel season. Spending would be expected to increase but it appears spending slightly dipped between February and April.

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.

April included the 100th day of the Trump administration, which saw the president taking office January 20. President Donald Trump’s first three months in office included an executive order that banned citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.  Many travel brands feared it could have a chilling effect on international travelers visiting the U.S.

The U.S. Travel Association considers April as a bellwether month that’s essentially the first solid indication of what kind of impact Trump’s policies and rhetoric has had on international travelers.

U.S. Travel estimates that international arrivals in the U.S. grew by about four percent year-over-year in April. “Because the average international visitor embarks on a trip to the U.S. 56.9 days after their initial travel search, any fallout from President Trump’s controversial orders in January and February 2017 would only begin to register in April travel data,” the organization said in a statement.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross spoke at U.S. Travel’s IPW conference in Washington, D.C. and declared that the U.S. is still open to international tourism.

Data released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization earlier this year show that increased spending by Chinese travelers in the U.S. last year was a major factor that contributed to the strength of international tourist spending in the U.S.

Perhaps there is a carryover effect to the first four months of 2017.

International Visitor Spending in the U.S. For April 2017 ($ Millions)

International Traveler Receipts in U.S. April 2017 April 2016 Percent Change 2017/2016
Passenger Airfare Receipts (5) $3.2 billion $3.2 billion 0.00%
Travel Receipts (for all purposes including education) (2) $17.6 billion $17 billion 3.50%
Travel Spending (3) $13 billion $12.7 billion 2.30%
Medical/Education/Workers Spending (4) $4.6 billion $4.2 billion 9.50%
Total Travel and Tourism-Related Exports (1) $20.8 billion $20.2 billion 2.97%

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).


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Tags: snapshot, tourism, usa

Photo credit: Pictured are travelers checking out Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco in March. James Carnes / Flickr

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