Skift Take

Even though official government data is still unavailable for 2018, reports show the United States is losing ground when it comes to international tourism — and especially key markets like China. What will it take to turn that trend around?

Lackluster growth in visitors to the United States is hitting the country where it hurts, according to a new report.

Research from the World Travel & Tourism Council shows that spending by international visitors dropped nearly 1 percent year-over-year to $198.8 billion. That is largely due to a lack of growth in visitors from China, whose dollars makes up roughly 11 percent of all spending.

“After recording 10 years of stellar growth, international visitor numbers from China were flat year on year, caused in part by the deteriorating trade relations between the two countries,” Gloria Guevara, the council’s president and CEO, said in a statement released Wednesday. “Given the economic importance of Chinese visitors, any thawing in the trade relations between the two countries would have a positive effect for the wider U.S. economy.”

Despite the spending drop, the U.S. remains the world’s largest travel and tourism economy, the report said. The sector contributes nearly $1.6 trillion to the country’s gross domestic product, or 7.8 percent of the total. The WTTC said the contribution grew 2.2 percent year-over-year, adjusted for inflation.

Globally, travel and tourism grew 3.9 percent to contribute $8.8 trillion to the world economy, a separate WTTC report said. That’s higher than global gross domestic product growth of 3.2 percent.

Data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization in January said global tourism arrivals grew 6 percent in 2018, though North America saw international arrivals increase by only 4 percent.

And in a recent report, Tourism Economics said international arrivals to the United States grew 2 percent last year. The World Travel & Tourism Council partnered with Tourism Economics for its research.

The council said 79.9 million international visitors came to the United States last year, with that number expected to increase to 82.5 million this year. Of the visitors in 2018, 3 percent were Chinese, a spokeswoman said.

Official numbers on full-year arrivals and spending from the U.S. Department of Commerce are not yet available; their release was delayed by the government shutdown. A representative could not be reached to address the WTTC figures Wednesday.

The global tourism group released recommendations for the U.S. that include renewing Brand USA, the country’s destination marketing organization authorized through 2020; expanding and renaming the U.S. Visa Waiver Program; updating airports and other infrastructure; and embracing biometric passenger identification.


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: china, tourism, united states, wttc

Photo credit: Central Park in New York City is shown in July of 2018. International spending in the United States dropped last year, according to new research, but the country still has the largest travel and tourism economy in the world. Alex Proimos / Flickr

Up Next

Loading next stories