Foreign visits to the U.S. show signs of life

Travel to the United States finally grew in October! After six months of declines, thanks to an Easter bump in April, foreign visitation finally ticked higher, an increase of 1 percent year-over-year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. If you take the holiday factor out of the equation, the last year-over-year increase came in August 2008. It’s difficult to tell whether the October gain signals a turn, since the 2009 result was measured against the first month following the financial mayhem of September 2008.

Four million people visited the United States from abroad last October and spent $10.3 billion in the process. Unlike the visitation statistic, spending was down … considerably. The cash shelled out by international visitors was off 13 percent year over year. But, the declines are shrinking. For the first 10 months of 2009, visitor spending amounted to $100.9 billion, a decline of 16 percent from the same period in 2008.

Thirteen of the top 20 countries in terms of visitation to the United States posted increases in October — six of them in double digits. Brazil, Australia, China, South Korea, Venezuela and Colombia delivered the greatest gains.The news was mixed from our neighbors. Visits from Canada fell 1 percent from October 2008 to October 2009, which is still an improvement over the year-to-date decline of 7 percent. Mexico, meanwhile, showed a 2 percent increase in October and a 5 percent decline for the year. Slightly more than half of the 4 million visitors to the United States came from overseas — i.e., not Canada or Mexico — an increase of 1 percent year-over-year. Through October, 19.8 million people crossed water to hit the United States, an 8 percent drop from the first 10 months of 2008.

Visits from Western Europe were down 5 percent for October and 11 percent for the year, while Asia posted a 2 percent gain and a year-to-date decline of 11 percent. The greatest gains were in the South American market: visitation to the United States was up 22 percent for October and 6 percent for the first 10 months of 2009.

[Photo by hjl via Flickr]