Visitor spending in U.S. drops for 15th consecutive month

International visitor spending is still heading in the wrong direction. In January, travelers coming to the United States from abroad spent only $10.3 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, a decline of 3 percent from January 2009. In hard cash, that’s a drop of $310 million.

Travel receipts amounted to $8.1 billion in January – that’s money spent on travel and tourism-related goods and represents a fall of 1 percent from January 2009. This includes food, lodging, recreation, gifts, entertainment and local transportation within the United States. Passenger fare receipts, the money spent on U.S. carriers and vessel operators, from international visitors fell 10 percent to $2.3 billion, with $300 million in spending disappearing from the same month last year.

January 2010 was the fifteenth month in a row in which spending on U.S. travel and tourism exports fell (when compared to the same month the prior year). Before the financial crisis took hold at the end of 2008, growth had increased for more than 60 consecutive months. Fortunately, the declines appear to be slowing. In December 2009, travel exports were off 8 percent.

Foreign visitor spending in U.S. gets ugly

The U.S. Department of Commerce tells us that spending in the United States by foreign visitors fell 13 percent to $10.3 billion for the month of October – off $1.6 billion from October 2008. For the entire year, international visitor spending plunged 16 percent. Spending fell $18.6 billion. The good news is that the October decline is better than the year-to-date drop, which the international travel market may be on its way back.

Visitors to the United States spent $8 billion in October on goods and services related to tourism and travel, off 12 percent year-over-year. This money was spent on “food, lodging, recreation, gifts, entertainment, local transportation in the United States, and other items incidental to foreign travel,” according to a Commerce Department statement.

Passenger fare receipts – including air and other forms of international travel to the United States – fell close to 16 percent to $2.2 billion for the month of October. This is off more than $420 million compared to October 2008. October was the twelfth month in a row in which travel and tourism exports declined year-over-year.From January to October this year, foreign visitors dropped $100.9 billion getting to and hanging out in the United States. But, they 16 percent by which they trimmed their spending is not without similarity on our side of the equation. U.S. travel imports – i.e., those of us visiting other countries – reached a mere $81.6 billion, off around 13 percent ($12.1 billion). The result was a trade surplus of $19.2 billion for the first 10 months of 2009, representing a decline of 25 percent from the 2008 travel and tourism trade surplus.

The tanking of the travel market at the end of 2008 – following the near-collapse of the global financial services market in September – marked the end of more than five years of consecutive monthly growth in travel and tourism exports. For the past 12 months, the situation has been grim, but the pressure appears to be easing, at least slightly.

The broader economic climate seems to be improving slowly, but it remains vulnerable to many risks. Another financial time bomb could send everything off the rails again, so it’s certainly too soon to say the travel market is returning to normal. There are signs, however, that it could be headed in the right direction. Fast and easy answers, on the other hand, will remain elusive for a while.

New York remains top U.S. port of entry

Through the first nine months of this year, overseas visitors passed mostly through only 15 ports of entry. These spots, according to the Department of Commerce accounted for 84 percent of entry traffic into the United States, gaining two percentage points over the first nine months of 2008. New York‘s JFK airport, Miami and Los Angeles dominated, pulling in 39 percent of all arrivals, up a percentage point from the same period last year.

Only four of the top 15 ports of entry in the United States saw traffic increase year-over-year: Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale. Of the 11 that posted declines, three did so at a double-digit rate. Visitation through Chicago fell a whopping 18 percent, which pushed it to seventh on the list, behind Honolulu. Houston fell a mere 3 percent, bringing up to #12, ahead of Boston. Philadelphia’s 6 percent gain moved it to #14, and a 3 percent increase in traffic through Fort Lauderdale brought it into the top 15 at the bottom spot. Detroit‘s 36 percent fall in overseas arrivals caused it to fall from the top 15.

Foreign visitation to the U.S. on the road to recovery

The travel market is showing some signs of stability! Finally! In September, the Department of Commerce reports that 4.1 million people visited the United States from abroad, down only 1 percent from the previous September. Visitation for the first nine months of this year fell 8 percent. Spending was down 14 percent from September to September, hitting $10.3 billion for the month. Year-to-date, foreign visitors to the United States have spent $90.6 billion, which is off 16 percent year-over-year. Nonetheless, it’s headed in the right direction. Nonetheless, foreign visitation suffered its eleventh straight month of declines.

Canadian visitation ticked up 3 percent in September, though for the first nine months of the year, it’s still down 7 percent. Meanwhile, visits from Mexico fell a modest 1 percent from September 2008 to September 2009 and is down 6 percent for the year.

Visitors crossing an ocean to reach the United States fell 4 percent in September — bringing the year-to-date decline to 9 percent. In September, 11 of the top 20 countries posted declines, five of them at double-digit rates. But, there’s some good news. Visits from the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland posted double-digit year-over-year increases for the month.

How did international visitors enter the U.S. this year?

If you visited the United States from overseas, you probably hit the ground in one of 15 ports of entry. These top first stops accounted for 84 percent of all entries from overseas in the first eight months of 2009– up almost 2 percentage points from the same period in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Traffic through the major ports is becoming slightly more concentrated. This doesn’t include visits from Canada and Mexico.

New York JFK, Miami and Los Angeles continue to be the top three ports of entry for overseas visitors. Through August, these locations accounted for 39% of all arrivals from overseas, an increase of a percentage point from last year. Miami was the only one of these three to post a year-over-year increase, and it was joined only by Orlando MCO, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale. Meanwhile, 11 of the top 15 ports of entry posted decreases in arrivals. This is hardly surprising, given that visits to the Untied States from overseas are down 9 percent so far this year.

Chicago was hit particularly hard, losing 18 percent of its entry traffic and moving into #7 on the list, behind Honolulu. Detroit lost 36 percent of its inbound visitor share, falling to #16 — after Boston, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale.