Skift Take

Americans are increasingly eager to explore the world — and able to afford the journey — which is good news for the global travel industry.

More Americans traveled outside the United States than ever before last year, spurred by a growing economy, favorable exchange rates, and high consumer confidence.

According to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Office, the number of U.S. citizens traveling outside the country for business and leisure jumped by 6 percent last year, reaching a total of 93 million.

Of those, 45 percent — or 41.8 million — flew to overseas destinations, 9 percent more than in 2018. Europe had the highest numbers and saw the biggest gain, up more than 12 percent, though the data also includes travelers going through Europe to other destinations. Other big gains came from travelers heading to Oceania, South America, and Asia.

Market Travelers in 2018 % Change
Europe 17,742,258 12.3%
Caribbean 8,702,217 4.6%
Asia 6,252,903 8.4%
Central America 3,236,733 6.8%
Middle East 2,443,291 5.9%
South America 2,104,107 9.3%
Oceania 860,554 10.8%
Africa 431,745 7.1%
Overseas Total 41,773,808 9%

Source: National Travel & Tourism Office

An estimated 51.3 million Americans traveled either by air or car to Mexico and Canada, an increase of 4 percent. The figures only count those traveling to Mexico for one or more nights, so it leaves day trippers out of the count. The totals for Mexico and Canada are preliminary, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Market Travelers in 2018 % Change
Mexico 36,923,011 5.7%
Canada 14,341,438 0.4%
North America Total 51,264,449 4.1%

Source: National Travel & Tourism Office

North America commands the highest share of outbound U.S. travelers, at 55 percent. Of that, Mexico gets a 40 percent share of U.S. travelers leaving the country. Following that, Europe has a 19 percent share, an increase from 2017, and Canada gets a 15 percent share.

Adam Sacks, president of consulting firm Tourism Economics, said several factors combined to make 2018 such a robust year for globetrotting Americans: tax reform measures that gave both consumers and businesses more money for travel, faster wage growth, high consumer confidence, and low unemployment.

“All this is a perfect recipe for strong outbound travel,” he said.

At the same time, Sacks said, the U.S. dollar is still relatively strong compared to currency in popular destinations around the world, including in Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, and European countries that use the euro.

“This is just making international travel more affordable,” he said. “Americans are simply reaping the benefits of that increased purchasing power. And it’s really accelerated in terms of the effect on travel in 2018.”


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Tags: american travelers, ntto, tourism

Photo credit: Visitors are shown in Venice, Italy, in this photo from October 2018. The number of U.S. citizens traveling abroad increased by 6 percent last year. steffen l / Flickr

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