International travel to the U.S. has been gradually declining after peaking almost a decade ago, the United States Department of Commerce said.
The number of international visitors to the U.S. in the first six months of the year dropped 3.9 percent (nearly 34 million travelers), compared with the same period in 2016, according to a recent report from the United States Department of Commerce National Travel and Tourism Office. The decrease was the highest in June, with a 6.7 percent decline compared with June 2016.
Tourists from the two countries with the largest populations in the world, China and India, dropped in the number of visitors to the U.S. by 3.2 percent and 12.9 percent, respectively. In 2016 alone, China arrivals had grown 14.7 percent, while India's increased 4.1 percent.
In particular, countries impacted by new immigration policies saw a decline in travel to the U.S. The number of visitors from the Middle East dropped nearly 30 percent, compared to the first six months of 2016; while Mexican visitors coming from January to June dropped 9.4 percent, compared to the same period of 2016.
Concerns in the industry
“The latest government travel data is deeply concerning, not just to our industry but to anyone who cares about the economic well-being of the United States,” said Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association.
“These numbers are an undeniable wake-up call, and correcting this troubling trend needs to become a national priority. The travel industry will turn over every stone looking for all available policy options to better promote the U.S. as an international destination, and we stand ready to partner with the federal government to grow travel, and American jobs and exports along with it.”
Paula Twidale, executive vice president at Collette, was optimistic that if currencies stabilize in markets like the U.K. and Australia, the number of international travelers will rebound.
“When those currencies are down, you're going to see an effect,” Twidale said at the USTOA Conference last month in Hollywood, Florida. “Maybe if currencies start to stabilize and go up for some of these countries, and everything stays settled, we can optimistically say a lot of that will turn around."
However, she acknowledged shifts in policy and politics come into play as well. “The sentiment [of us not] being a hospitable and welcoming nation has negatively impacted the industry for inbound travel. There is an implication to every action, and we've seen it.