US returns to its traditional global tourism front line

Visitors made up fewer than one in 20 of flights last year and spending barely half what they do in Europe

The US is slowly returning to its traditional place on the world tourism map, more than a year after the Paris attacks and a new Trump trade war.

About 138 million American tourists travelled abroad in 2017, compared with 141 million in 2016, according to estimates by the US travel and tourism agency.

Tourism from overseas has risen by more than a million to 22 million, representing about 2% of the US population.

It was still the lowest level of foreign tourism since 2002 but followed the earlier years of significant outbound trips by Mexicans – who were once only allowed to travel occasionally to visit relatives – Europeans and Canadians.

Though the overall increase in tourists was only 8.2%, there were stark regional differences. North America grew at 11%, Asia by 15.6% and Europe by 6.5%.

The seven most popular cities for American tourists were South Beach, Florida, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington DC. London was the most popular destination of the 27 cities in Europe visited by US tourists, the figures showed.

After several years in the doldrums, domestic travel rose 7.1% in 2017 after a nearly flat decade. Most popular states were California, Texas, New York, Arizona and Florida.

At the same time, while tourists from Europe and Asia are visiting the US more often, spending dollars and staying longer, US travellers continue to skip popular European countries and head for Mexico and Canada.

In France, for example, the US ranks 10th for total visits, with fewer than one in 20 of Americans arriving by air in France. The same is true for Canada.

Spending per visitor fell almost 12% last year in the European destinations of Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal, from $5,106 to $4,550. In comparison, Americans spent $4,052 in Mexico.

According to Delegation 48, a trade group representing economic development and tourism in Mexico, total spending by visitors to Mexico US has increased almost 36% in the past five years.

“While international tourism to the US has continued to show a modest overall increase for the past few years, during the next decade, it is forecast to continue to grow modestly due to the underlying factors of population growth, private investment and health care reform that are promoting travel within our country,” the US travel and tourism agency told the AP.

According to the International Air Transport Association, expected growth in the US economy is helping tourism to return. “Growth in the US economy was the key factor in the US tourism recovery,” it said.

It added: “Business travelers are often asked to spread their footprint as much as possible to maximise their efficiency and save money, and this applies to domestic and international as well. For this reason, there has been a rise in the number of US-based business travellers visiting more business destinations such as destinations such as Paris, London and Brussels.”

Barring further political shocks, the global picture for tourism will be slightly worse this year with the US taking in fewer tourists than were welcomed here in 2016, the busiest year on record for global tourism. But the number of outbound trips from the US will grow to almost 90 million, more than almost half the global total of 418 million visitors expected this year.

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