By: Edwin Fuller
Founder and President of Laguna Strategic Advisors

Travel marketers around the country are going all out to welcome the more than 77 million international visitors who are expected to arrive in the US this year. And with good reason: international visitors are big business.  Foreign visitors spend about 4 times per day more than what US resident travelers do when they travel domestically.  In 2016, even though the strong US dollar weighed on international travel growth, global travelers spent $246 billion in the US.  By contrast, Americans spent about $159 billion during their travels outside the US last year, generating an $87 billion travel trade surplus, larger than any other US industry.  Even more impressive, the money international visitors spend while in our country helps support more than 15.3 million American jobs.

International travel and tourism includes all types of travel – leisure, business, conference, educational, medical and visiting friends and family. Thus, international travel is viewed as an export because the product doesn’t leave the US.  It’s our most important, yet often underreported, service export because the US is the product.

Industry plans campaigns with simple “Welcome” message

In coming months, you may hear about marketing campaigns by major US gateway regions such as New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Seattle. The campaigns are being mounted in response to negative perceptions fueled by recent policies that may cast the US as a less friendly place for visitors.  These destinations want to remind foreign visitors that they are welcome here.

The US Travel Association (USTA), which represents these destinations and thousands of other travel businesses in this country, believes the White House should deliver a precise message of welcome in the context of the President’s executive orders and other security policies affecting travelers. This message of welcome is not just about improving our country’s image abroad – it’s directly in line with the current administration’s economic aims.  As USTA’s President & CEO Roger Dow recently put it, “Growing inbound travel aligns with President Trump’s goals to increase exports, adds American jobs and ensures we win our share of the global travel market.”

At USTA’s recent Destination CEO Roundtable, representatives updated one another on their individual “welcome” efforts and discussed how they could develop a unified “welcome” campaign aimed at global travelers. Although USTA is not a marketing organization, it is exploring essentials of a coordinated international push with elements to be adopted by the industry as a whole.  Concurrently, the group is also exploring a coalition of other associations across the industry to advocate on the issue to the federal government.

Projections still indicate International travel to US will grow

Meanwhile, the US Commerce Department predicts growth in international travel to the US through 2021 despite challenges. Five countries are expected to account for 63% of this growth including Mexico, China, Canada, India and South Korea.

Globally, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Panel of Experts remains confident. Nearly 2/3 of its members expect “better” or “much better” international travel numbers worldwide in 2017 vs. the previous year.  Based on current trends, UNWTO predicts international tourist arrivals worldwide will grow at a rate of 3% to 4% in 2017.  Arrivals in Europe are expected to grow by 2% to 3%; arrivals in the Asia and the Pacific region and Africa are expected to grow 5% to 6%; arrivals in the Americas are expected to grow by 4% to 6%; and the Middle East’s projections rest somewhere between 2% to 5%, given the high volatility in the region.

The takeaway: We need to make foreign visitors feel welcome

It’s clear that it is in our best interest as a country to make our international visitors feel welcome. The economic progress of our communities and creation of great, non-exportable American jobs depend on it.  Long-term global trends confirm that people the world over love to travel and we need them to continue to want to travel here.  That’s why it’s important that, even as we shore up immigration and security policies, our federal and state officials and representatives need to get behind the travel and tourism industry’s efforts to roll out the welcome mat for our international visitors

As published