Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Tourism

U.S. Visa Delays Sees Some Reduction

4 days ago

Global average wait times for U.S. visitor visas dropped below 150 days in January for the first time since 2021, according to the U.S. Travel Association. They still, however, remain higher than 400 days for India, Brazil, Mexico and top inbound visa-requiring markets (excluding China).

In 2022, aspiring tourists from the top ten inbound countries outside the U.S. Visa Waiver Program couldn’t travel to the U.S. because they had to hundreds of days to get a visitor visa (B-1 and B-2) interview at their local U.S. embassy. The primary reason was inadequate processing staff amid released pent-up demand. The delays could cost the travel industry an estimated $12 billion in 2023 and cause international travel not to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, according to the U.S. Travel.

The recent wait time reductions have been due to the State Department’s new processing initiatives. The department’s “Super Saturdays” initiative has had embassies and consulates remain open on Saturdays to process visas. This past Saturday, for example, the consulate at Monterrey, Mexico, cut interview wait times from 545 days in mid-December to (still high) 407 days. The administration’s wavering of interview requirements for low-risk renewals of visitor visa and other categories have also helped.

Visa wait times remain absurdly high for many international tourists. In Mumbai, India, for example, wait times fell from 999 days in mid-December to 623 days—that’s more than a year and a half.

The State Department expects interview wait times will fall to under 120 days and its embassies and consulates will be fully staffed by the end of the 2023 fiscal year, according to U.S. Travel. The speed of visa wait times reductions will vary by country due local travel demand and hiring pace, according to Peter van Berkel, chairman of the International Inbound Travel Association and president of Travalco, a tour operator. 

Under 120 days is still high and underscores the Skift 2023 megatrend that the U.S. travel industry will have to continue to contend with the loss of many international travelers.

Working with the State Department to resolve the visitor visa delay issue will be the top priority for the person that fills the newly-created assistant secretary of travel and tourism position

Tourism

Europe, Middle East to Reach Pre-Pandemic Tourism Levels in 2023: UNWTO

2 weeks ago

Both the Middle East and Europe are on track to reach their pre-pandemic levels in 2023 , according to the UN World Tourism Organization. Last year saw a stronger than expected recovery for the global tourism economy.

In 2022, more than 900 million tourists traveled internationally, double from 2021 but 63 percent of 2019 levels. International tourism receipts rose across most destinations. The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) cited increases in average spending per trip due to longer stays, traveler willingness to spend more at destinations and higher travel costs due to inflation.

International tourists arrivals could reach between 80 to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2023. The potential economic slowdown, the Ukraine war, Asia Pacific’s recovery timeline and other factors will play a role in how quickly international travel returns to its pre-pandemic level.

The Middle East had the best comeback of all the regions last year. The region reached 83 percent of its pre-pandemic level. Europe reached around 80 percent. Africa and the Americas received around 63 percent of their pre-pandemic level. 

Asia Pacific had a rough year. The region reached only 23 percent of its pre-pandemic volume due to stronger pandemic restrictions, according to UNWTO. China’s zero-Covid policy was a big driver. For most of 2022,  the policy effectively shut China out of the global tourism economy. 

Tourism leaders have repeatedly said China’s absence has dragged the global recovery. “We look at Greater China, the zero Covid policy has continued to dampen recovery in a meaningful way,” said Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano at World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit.

With China now relaxing its policy, Asia Pacific and the world have made a significant step toward recovery. UNWTO said the availability and cost of air travel, visa regulations and COVID-19 related restrictions will shape how the recovery will play out.  At least 32 destinations have imposed travel restrictions on Chinese tourists. The U.S., for example, requires Chinese tourists to test negative for Covid no more than two days before departure.

Travel demand from the U.S., however, will continue to be strong in 2023 thanks to the strength of the American dollar, according to UNWTO. Europe in particular will enjoy strong travel flows because of the euro’s relative weakness compared to the dollar.

Tourism

Spending by International Visitors to U.S. Rises 57 Percent to $16 Billion 

2 weeks ago

International visitors spent $15.9 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the U.S. in November, up 57 percent year over year, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.  That’s an improvement from November 2021, but it’s billions of dollars down from international visitor spending in pre-pandemic November 2019, which had $20 billion.

From January to November, international visitors to the U.S. spent more than $146 billion, up more than 103 year over year and translating into an average of over $437 million per day going into the U.S. economy.

The U.S. ended up with a travel surplus in November. Americans traveling abroad spent more than $15.2 billion in November, yielding a trade balance of $703 million. The U.S. also had a travel trade surplus in October.

International visitor purchases of travel and tourism-related goods and services, which includes entertainment, food and recreation, totaled $8.6 billion in November 2022, up 77 percent compared to the previous year. That’s below the total in November 2019, when international visitor purchases amounted to $11.7 billion.

Tourism

International Travelers to U.S. Spent $16 Billion in October, a New Recent High

2 months ago

International inbound visitors spent more than $15.8 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States in October, making it the highest monthly level of spending since Covid struck in February 2020, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. 

Year to date international travel spending has accumulated to $129.9 billion, up more than 110 percent year over year. That translated into $427 million spending per day for the U.S. economy.

International travelers spent a total of $8.8 billion on lodging, recreation and other travel and tourism-related goods and services in October, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. International travel spending for that month was down nearly $3 billion compared to October 2019, which had $11.7 billion.

The U.S. also came out with a trade surplus in October. Americans traveling abroad spent around $15.8 billion, giving the U.S. a slight trade plus of $58 million for October. In September, the U.S. had a trade deficit of more than $1 billion. 

One likely reason why the surplus was so small has been the ongoing delay to process first-time visitor visa applications at American embassies in multiple countries outside the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. The U.S. Travel Association estimates the average wait time for first-time visa applicants from key U.S. markets has exploded to 400 days.

Tourism

U.S. Travel Launches Website Spotlighting Visa Delay Damage

2 months ago

The U.S. Travel Association has launched a website to highlight the negative impact of long visitor visa interview wait times—which now exceed an average of 400 days—is having on global travelers and U.S. businesses. Called USVisaDelays.com, the website lists stories of those affected, loss in industry spending, visitor wait times, impacted markets and a policy fact sheet. 

Users can also submit their own story as a traveler or a business owner. “There are no better voices to tell the personal toll of America’s de facto border closure than the people, families and American businesses directly impacted by egregious visa wait times,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman. 

The U.S. is projected to lose nearly $7 billion in travel spending in 2023 and not see a full recovery in international inbound travel until 2025, according to U.S. Travel.

The website also calls on the Biden administration to take action and provides policy recommendations. “The Biden administration must focus on what is in its control and take immediate action to lower wait times, “said Freeman. “We simply cannot afford to give travelers any reason to avoid visiting the United States.”

U.S. Travel will launch custom versions of the website in both English and Portuguese next week.

Tourism

U.S. International Inbound Travel Won’t Fully Recover Until 2025

2 months ago

International inbound travel to the U.S. is projected to be at 63 percent and 75 percent of its pre-pandemic volume in 2022 and 2023, respectively, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s biannual forecast. At this rate, international travel won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

The projected slump is worse than USTA’s June forecast of international travel reaching 67 percent of pre-pandemic 2019 levels and 82 percent in 2023, respectively, reflecting the loss of $8 million more visitors and $28 billion in spending over those two years.

The slow recovery is due to the ongoing delays at U.S. embassies to process visitor visas. First-time visitor visa applicants have to wait over average of 400 days in the top 10 source markets for travel to the United States, and markets such as Brazil, India and Mexico have experienced worsened wait times in recent months, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Tourism

International Inbound Travel to U.S. Still Just 2/3 What It Was Pre-Pandemic

6 months ago

Around 4.3 million international visitors came to the United States in May, amounting to 64 percent of its May pre-pandemic volume, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. This volume was reported for May, the last month before the U.S. lifted its testing Covid requirement for inbound international travelers.

Canada (1.3 million), Mexico (1 million), UK (327,000), India (149,000) and Germany (130,000) were the U.S.’s top source markets in May. These source markets accounted for 67.2 percent of total international arrivals. 

Times Square
Times Square. Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/k4nVp1I84Dc

The top 20 source markets in May 2022 saw a change in their makeup compared to pre-pandemic May 2019.  Chile, the Dominican Republic and Peru placed in the top 20, while China, Taiwan and Switzerland did not.

Outbound international travel totaled 6.9 million, up 87 percent from May 2021 and amounting to 80 percent of its May pre-pandemic volume. Mexico was the top travel destination for U.S. citizens with 2.7 million visits. Combined year-to-date, over 60 percent of departures were for Mexico and the Caribbean, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.

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