Skift Take

U.S. cities face big challenges to a full tourism recovery, but are they struggling to attract visitors? Here's what Ask Skift said.

Skift has looked into the hurdles that several major U.S. cities face in trying to boost tourism — San Francisco and Portland are just two examples.

Executives at urban destination marketing organizations throughout the U.S. have cited challenges such as negative perceptions of their cities and diminishing appeal among suburban residents.

So are U.S. cities struggling to attract tourists? Ask Skift, our artificial intelligence chatbot, provided answers using information from our news coverage and research. We’ve also done further reporting to answer the question.

Ask Skift said:

Yes, some U.S. cities are experiencing challenges in attracting tourists. The decline in office worker foot traffic has impacted the vibrancy and aesthetic appeal that supports the tourism experience in city centers.

For instance, the downtown area of San Francisco has seen such a decline that some tour operators had to reduce their time there due to negative customer feedback. Similarly, suburbanites who now mostly telecommute are becoming less likely to recommend their cities as tourist destinations.

In Portland, a considerable proportion of suburbanites wouldn’t recommend the city to friends and family because they are staying home and “in their bubble.”

Moreover, the overall U.S. tourism industry has not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels. International inbound travel to the U.S. in May 2023 rose 26% year over year to 5.37 million visitors, but this is still about 20% lower than pre-pandemic visitor volumes reported in May 2019 (August 2023). Especially, the decrease in visitors from China, a major market for the U.S. tourism industry, has been cited as a significant factor in the U.S.’s inability to fully recover.

What else you need to know:

The challenges are real, including U.S. visitor visa delays that are complicating destination marketing organizations’ ability to attract tourists from key overseas markets. The average wait time for a U.S. embassy interview for a first-time visitor visa applicant in major markets such as India, Brazil and China is more than 400 days on average, according to the U.S. Travel Association. NYC Tourism + Conventions CEO Fred Dixon said the city has to attract travelers needing visas to boost tourism.

In addition, the absence of Chinese tourists has hurt several cities, including Washington, D.C. Destination DC CEO and President Elliott Ferguson said China was the city’s number one visitor market prior to the pandemic.

Although several large U.S. cities don’t expect to make full tourism recoveries this year, they are still putting up big numbers. New York is projected to welcome 63.3 million visitors this year, up from 56.7 million in 2022. However, local officials have acknowledged their efforts to attract more tourists are hamstrung by widespread pessimism among New Yorkers about the state of the city.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s tourism industry has received an enormous boost from a series of major events this summer. Hotel occupancy rates hit 97% during a June weekend in which Chicago hosted three Taylor Swift concerts. Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association President and CEO Michael Jacobson said it was the best weekend in Chicago history.

Hotel revenue in Chicago during the first half of 2023 hit $1.12 billion, a 24% bump from the previous year and a 102% jump from the same period in 2019, a new record for the city.

Seattle has experienced a huge tourism boom this summer as evidenced by its surging hotel occupancy rate. The city’s metro region hit 86.8% hotel occupancy in mid-June, the highest of all U.S. markets. Seattle’s downtown hotels also broke their single-day revenue record around that the time, bolting past the $5 million mark.

Officials in Boston can also tout a significant visitor surge. Its hotel occupancy rate in June was 86%, a four percentage point increase from the same month last year, and it’s expected to hit 2019 levels this year, according to local hotel consulting firm Pinnacle Advisory Group. International passenger traffic at Logan Airport increased 27% in June from last year and has already recovered to pre-Covid levels.


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Tags: ask skift, boston, chicago, cities, new york city, nyc, seattle, u.s. tourism

Photo credit: Chicago has seen a boom in visitors this month thanks a series of major events the city has hosted. Phil Roeder / Flickr

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