Skift Take

Many travel brands had said last year was tough as full-year international visits to the U.S. decreased in 2016 for the first time since 2009. We’ll need to wait until this time next year to see if this is a hiccup or a new trend.

International tourism to the United States had been on an ascent over the past seven years as many economies recovered from the global recession of 2008 and 2009. But last year, that mountain of momentum hit a descent as nearly two million fewer international visitors traveled to the U.S. in 2016.

Last year, 75.6 million international arrivals (Canada, Mexico, and overseas) visited U.S. destinations, a 2.4 percent (more than 1.8 million) decrease in such arrivals from 2015, according to data from the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office and U.S. Department of Commerce. The last year inbound tourism declined was 2009.

Only three of the top 10 countries for international visitation – Mexico, China, and South Korea – had more arrivals year-over-year. Some 81.9 percent represented leisure visits and 13.9 percent represented business travel.

Visits from overseas countries (not Canada or Mexico) were down 2.1 percent year-over-year while visits from Canada were down 6.8 percent and visits from Mexico were up 1.9 percent.

Brazil had the largest decrease (-24 percent) as that country has undergone political and economic turmoil in recent years (see chart below).

Top 10 Countries for Visitation to the United States in 2016

Country of Residence Percent Change December 2016 vs. 2015 Percent Change Full-Year 2016 vs. Full-Year 2015
Canada 0.5% -7%
Mexico -10% 2%
United Kingdom -6% -7%
Japan -4% -5%
China (excluding Hong Kong) 14% 15%
Germany -5% -10%
South Korea 10% 12%
Brazil -24% -24%
France 5% -7%
Australia -6% -7%


Source: U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office

The drop in international visitation had been projected by travel organizations such as U.S. Travel, but most of 2016 brought good news for international visits. Data show that overseas and Canadian visitation didn’t start decreasing until November when visits from both regions dropped two and seven percent year-over-year, respectively.

That timeframe coincides with the U.S. presidential election in November although it’s not clear what impact politics or the election had on international visitation last year.

But Brand USA, the national destination marketing organization for the U.S., found that most top visitor markets except China are less inclined to visit the U.S. because of the current political climate.

Brand USA, which began operations in 2011, attributes 4.3 million incremental international visitors since 2013 to its marketing efforts. Anne Madison, Brand USA’s chief strategy and communications officer, said the drop in visitors is in line with projections from other sources and is reflective of the strong dollar impacting international traveler decisions to visit the USA.

“To that end, we are continuing to emphasize through our marketing and communications efforts over all channels the inherent value in visiting the United States based on the breadth and depth of experiences available in the USA and the proximity of a range of destinations to, through, and beyond the gateways,” said Madison.

Visitor growth from overseas and Canada, however, began to slow year-over-year in June 2016 and January 2016, respectively. Visits from Mexico grew year-over-year each month last year but that growth was smaller year-over-year from September through December.

The decrease in international visitors is particularly notable as spending from foreign visits hit a record high in 2016 ($247.1 billion) even with fewer visitors and with a stronger dollar making trips to the U.S. more expensive for many international travelers.

Albeit, that’s only a 0.4 percent increase over 2015 and much of that increased spending was driven by Chinese travelers – one of the only markets to post an overall increase in visitation last year.

Countless factors besides currencies and politics determine why travelers choose to visit the U.S. or why they cancel or postpone a trip. While many destinations aren’t seeing any Trump slump so far this year that was widely projected, it appears there was a slump last year. It may be too soon for some cities and states to notice any significant changes in visitation this year but it’s evident that overall foreign visitation in the U.S. ended last year on a low note.


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: ntto, tourism, usa

Photo credit: Foreign visits to the U.S. in 2016 began to drop off after last summer. Pictured are tourists in boats at Central Park in New York City. Skift

Up Next

Loading next stories