International visitor spending down 20%, misses $10bn mark

Visitors to the United States from other countries spent a mere $9.6 billion in July, down almost 24% year-over-year, according to data from the Department of Transportation. Currency exchange rates continue to make a recession even more … ummm … recessed(?) for the travel business. So, we’re looking at nine consecutive months in which tourists from overseas just aren’t plunking down the cash they did last year.

The price paid to travel – called “passenger fare receipts” – plunged 26% from July 2008 to July 2009, with only $2.1 billion spent to get from Point A to Point B and back. This is the lowest level reached for passenger fare receipts in two years. Travel receipts – i.e. the purchase of travel-related goods and services – amounted to $7.5 billion for the month. This is the cash spent on food, lodging, entertainment gifts, and it’s down 23% year-over-year.

The fact that July was the ninth month in which international tourist spending fell masks an even greater problem: this trend has been gaining momentum. In November 2008, foreign visitor spending was off 4% from November 2007. By January 2009, the year-over-year change fell to -6% and -10% in February. May, June and July all posted travel export declines of worse than 20%.

For the year so far, travel exports (same thing as spending by foreign visitors) has reached $69.2 billion – a decline of 17% relative to the same period last year. What’s this mean? People visiting the United States have spent $13.9 billion less than they did last year.

But, in the spirit of fairness, we’re spending less when we leave the United States. American travel imports are down almost 13%. We’ve spent $8.3 billion less than we did last year. But, we still shelled out a total of $57.5 billion in “support” for the local economies we’ve visited in 2009. The United States is still sitting on an $11.7 billion trade surplus in the travel space – but the balance is $5.7 billion less favorable than it was last year.