January visits to U.S. offer glimmer of hope

The rush of data from the U.S. Department of Commerce continues. In January 2010, 3.4 million international visitors came to the United States, an increase of 10 percent from January 2009. This is the fourth month in a row that international visitation ticked higher. But, this surge in arrivals hasn’t been enough to lift spending, as the cash put out by visitors from outside the country fell 3 percent from January 2009 to January 2010.

Seventeen of the top 20 countries (in terms of sending visitors to the United States), showed increases – nine of them double digits. Canada, Brazil, South Korea, China (and Hong Kong), Australia, Argentina, Spain, Colombia and Switzerland put up the big growth numbers in January.

Canada posted an increase of 13 percent, with 1.3 million coming to the United States, while Mexico was only good for a 3 percent gain (416,000 visitors in January). Western Europe was sluggish, with a gain of only 1 percent, though travel to the United States increased for seven of the top 10 markets in this region: Germany (5 percent), France (4 percent), Italy (7 percent), Spain (10 percent), Netherlands (3 percent), Sweden (5 percent) and Switzerland (14 percent). The United Kingdom dragged the average down, with a year-over-year decline of 5 percent.
Seven of the top 10 markets in Asia posted increases, as well, led by South Korea (40 percent), Singapore (18 percent) and China (15 percent). In South America, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia were up 30 percent, 12 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Visits from Venezuela were off 8 percent.

The money may be down, but visits are up, and that’s a step in the right direction. It’s still too early to call this a travel market recovery, as airlines remain under pressure and hotel pricing is expected to remain flat through the end of the year. But, the up-tick in international at least means that people are getting on planes again and coming to the United States.