By: Edwin Fuller
Founder and President of Laguna Strategic Advisors
There’s a lot of chatter these days about what to do about our national debt that is quickly approaching $20 trillion, about the pros and cons of our international trade policies, and about our blossoming balance of trade deficit that grows larger with each passing day as the US continues to import more goods and services than we export. In all this talk, however, we rarely hear about the positive “sliver of silver” that’s buried in much of the negative commentary about these concerns.
That “sliver of silver” is International Tourism. It is one of the industries in which the US competes favorably against all its global competitors. According to figures released in early April by the US Commerce Department, in 2015, 75.3 million international travelers visited the US and spent $133 billion while visiting our cities and attractions. They spent more than $23 billion more in this country than the $110 billion that U.S. residents spent last year visiting other countries, despite the strength of the US dollar against their own currencies.
This is huge news. It demonstrates that although the value of the dollar has had a significant impact on the competitiveness of US exports in general, its impact on the travel industry has been less severe than on other export industries. In the past year, our travel exports increased 0.6% while other exports of US goods and services declined by 4.7% overall. And while an increase of 0.6% may seem meager, spending by international visitors in the US is showing impressive future promise, increasing over the past three months at an annual 10%, its fastest growth rate in more than a year.
On a wider scale, the news is good for our jobs market across the country. Think about this the next time you hear a smorgasbord of languages as you stand in line at your favorite Starbucks or at the entrance of a museum or other hot local attraction: International visitors inject nearly $625 million every day into the US economy. According to the US Travel Association, this translates into direct support for about 1.1 million US jobs and $28.4 billion in wages last year, as eachoverseas traveler spent about $4,400 on their visit and that each visit tended to average 18 nights. And without the tax revenue generated by our domestic and international tourists combined, each US household would pay $1,192 more in taxes each year.
But what about the future? The news is good here too. The US Commerce Department predicts the US will welcome about 90 million international visitors annually within the next four years. Just think: 1.2 billion travelers round the globe crossed their national borders to visit another country last year. The UNWTO says International Tourism arrivals will grow by 4% worldwide in 2016. Let’s ensure these global visitors find a warm welcome when their travels bring them to the US.