Travel to U.S. off 5 percent in 2009

The numbers are finally in: international visitation to the United States reached 54.9 million last year, down 5 percent from 2008. The top markets, as usual, were Canada and Mexico, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Commerce, both of which posted year-over-year declines. South America, Oceana and Asia, meanwhile, put up the strongest growth in travel to the United States in the fourth quarter, buoyed largely by action from China and Brazil.

In December alone, 4.1 million people visited came here, a 5 percent increase from December 2008. This marked the third consecutive month of increased travel to the United States, though the entire fourth quarter of the year before was marred by the effects of the global financial crisis. For the fourth quarter of 2009, travel to the United States was up 2 percent, with 15 of the top 20 arrival markets showing growth. Travel from Canada was up 3 percent, with Mexico up 1 percent. Visitation from overseas markets gained 1 percent.For the entire year, only seven of the top 20 arrival markets showed year-over-year increases, with Brazil and Argentina hitting double-digit rates. The United Kingdom and Japan were among the markets with declines. Overall, the top 20 were responsible for 89 percent of all international arrivals to the United States, and the entire cohort was off 6 percent.

Spending, unfortunately, didn’t fare as well as traffic. Last year, visitors from outside the country dropped $121.1 billion, representing a decline of 15 percent year over year. In December, they spent $10.3 billion, off 8 percent from the prior December but at least showing that the trend is headed in the right direction (as the rate of decline was only half that for the year as a whole). December was the fourteenth consecutive month in which travel exports fell year over year.

The decline in tourist spending was likely influenced by several factors, from deals on airfare and hotels to general economic pressures that kept people from spending as much as they’d normally like.

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.

Foreigners are still spending less in the U.S.

Visitors from outside the United States came in and spent $9.9 billion in August … which sounds like a lot. Unfortunately, it’s down 21 percent from what they spent in August 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, as the travel slump continues to clamp wallets shut. The good news, though, is that spending by foreign visitors to the United States edged 1 percent higher from July.

Spending by visitors to the United States has fallen every month since 2008, but the really severe declines began in May. Year-over-year drops have been 20 percent or worse every month since then: -23 percent in May, -22 percent in June and July and -21 percent in August.

Most of the money came from “travel receipts,” which the Commerce Department defines as just about everything except the planes, trains, boats and so on that take travelers into and out of the country. This was good for $7.8 billion in August and includes food, lodging, gives and entertainment, among other categories. “Passenger fare receipts,” the travel money, brought $2.1 billion into the U.S. economy in August — off $700 million from the previous August.

So far this year, foreign visitors have poured $79.4 billion into the U.S. travel and tourism industry, which is $16.4 billion less than we saw at this point in 2008 (a decline of 17 percent).

In an unsurprising application of the “golden rule” — screw unto others, as they screw unto you — American travelers haven’t been spending as much abroad, either. Those of us heading out of the country this year have only spent $65.9 billion so far, down 12 percent ($9.3 billion) from last year. The result is a $13.5 billion trade surplus, which is $7.1 billion less favorable than it was at this time last year.

With the next monthly report from the Commerce Department, the numbers should start to change a bit — in fact, they should start to look better. Don’t be deceived by this subtle shift, which will gain momentum next year. After Septmeber, and the worldwide financial crisis, the travel industry was battered. So, as we cross the September threshold, we’ll be comparing current results to lower benchmarks. But, it will be nice to see something that at least looks positive.

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.

Foreign spending in U.S. continues to fall

Foreign spending in the United States continues its downward spiral. According to recent U.S. Department of Commerce data, visitors to the United States from outside the country fell 17 percent from April 2008 to April 2009, settling at $9.5 billion. In conjunction with struggles in the domestic market, the result is an even greater gap that remains to be filled.

Spending on travel and tourism-related goods and services amounted to $7.4 billion in April, down 17 percent (consistent with the overall result). This consists of such products and services as food, lodging, recreation, gifts, entertainment and travel within the country. Another $2.1 billion came from travel to the United States from other countries. This represents a fall of 18 percent from April of 2008 and a decline of 4 percent from March 2009.

This is the sixth month in a row in which U.S. travel exports fell relative to the same month the previous year.

  • November 2008: -4 percent
  • December 2008: -2 percent
  • January 2009: -5 percent
  • February 2009: -9 percent
  • March 2009: -19 percent
  • April 2009: -17 percent

While the year-over-year declines softened from March to April, it’s clear that, in general, the slide of U.S. travel exports has accelerated significantly. This trend is also a drastic change from the 60 months of gains that preceded it.

For the year, the situation is dismal, as well. From January through April, U.S. travel exports reached $40.3 billion, which is off 12 percent ($5.7 billion) from the same period in 2008. The United States still has a trade surplus – of $6.4 billion – but it’s down $2.3 billion year-over-year.