U.S. travel abroad slips, spending plummets

The number of travelers leaving the United States fell 3 percent from 2008 to 2008. According to the latest data from the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, 61.5 million people comprised the outbound market in 2009. Travel Mexico was off 4 percent year over year, with Canada falling 7 percent. Overseas destinations – i.e., everywhere else – sustained a decline of 2 percent. It wasn’t all bad news, though. Records were set for Central America, Africa and the Middle East – particularly Greece, the Dominican Republic and Italy.

Spending, meanwhile, continued to lag last year. The fact that U.S. travelers spent 12 percent less abroad in 2009 than they did in 2008 suggests that budgets remained constrained. Spending within foreign countries fell 8 percent to $73.2 billion, and the cash put out for transportation via foreign air carriers plunged 20 percent to $26 billion. Nonetheless, people were finding ways to travel abroad, even if they couldn’t do it as lavishly as they did the year before.

[chart courtesy of the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries]

More Americans pay up to get out

The outbound non-stop air passenger market grew 6 percent from March 2009 to March 2010, reflecting a 3 percent gain for the first quarter year-over-year. An estimated 3.3 million people hopped flights from the United States in March this year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, with the total reaching 8.6 million for the first three months.

Air travel to all international markets ticked higher from March to March, except Mexico, which was flat. The Caribbean, Asia, Canada, the Middle East, Oceania and Africa posted double-digit gains. For the first quarter, outbound passenger traffic from the United States grew in five of the eight international markets – Oceana, the Middle East and Africa showed double-digit gain.

More and more people are flying, and the trend is picking up steam, as evidenced by the fact that the March growth rate was higher than that for the first quarter.

And, we’re spending more money on these flights. U.S. travelers on foreign carriers spent $2.3 billion in March 2010, up 8 percent from March 2009.

Foreign travelers to U.S. dropped more than $30bn in first quarter

Travel spending bounced higher March, even though the bar was set pretty low. Foreign visitors spent an estimated $10.8 billion on travel to and tourism-related activities in the United States that month. That’s an increase of nearly $1.1 billion – or 11 percent – over March 2010. So, travel exports grew for the second month in a row, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Foreign visitors to the United States generated $2.4 billion in passenger fare receipts (the cash paid to get to or from the United States) and $8.4 billion in travel receipts (everything else) in March. Travel receipts were up 13 percent, with passenger fare receipts gaining 6 percent year over year.

For the first quarter of 2010, international visitors dropped almost $31.8 billion on travel and tourism – up 4 percent. Americans spent $25.5 billion abroad during the same period.

Travel lobbying: Cuba, medical leave cost $305,000

Money may be tight in the travel business, but there’s always some pocket change hanging around for lobbyists. In the first quarter of 2010, the American Hotel & Lodging Association shelled out $305,000 on federal lobbying. Cuba was one of the top items, along with labor issues such as family medical leave and health insurance for small businesses in the industry.

Shocked at the number? I am, too. I figured it would be a tad higher. Given the strain on the travel industry as a result of prevailing economic conditions, I had a feeling that the industry would be lobbying hard for flexibility to save some cash and add a little more to the till.

The organization’s lobbying targets included Congress and the Departments of Labor, Commerce and Homeland Security.

Asia compensates for rest of world in air travel decline

From February 2009 to February 2010, outbound non-stop air travel from the United States remained flat, a seemingly promising sign in a travel market that’s been brutalized by global economic conditions. Take a look under the covers, however, and you can see that, for some destinations, we aren’t completely out of trouble yet.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, flights from the United States to Asia grew 9 percent year over year, which is what brought the global total up to break-even. The other outbound markets – Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean, posted year-over-year declines, which were exacerbated by the fact that these are these destinations occupy the largest part of the market. Travel to the Middle East and Asia, from the United States, showed the strongest growth.

For the first two months of the year, outbound air travel grew two percent relative to 2009, continuing the upward trajectory from July 2009. Seven of the past eight months had increases in outbound travel from the United States.

In January and February this year, five of the eight overseas regions experienced growth, with Oceana, the Middle East and Africa good for double-digit gains. Canada showed an increase of 1 percent, and Mexico was down 3 percent.

Americans may be spending more, but they’re clearly chasing deals when going on trips out of the country. In February this year, U.S. travelers on foreign carriers spent $2.2 billion, which is down 6 percent from February 2009.