Foreign Travelers Returning to the U.S.

After a downturn in 2009 -- the first in six years -- expect steady growth for the next several years.

The beleaguered travel industry is showing signs of life: Foreign visitors are returning to the U.S. This year will see an upswing of 5% over 2009 as 58.2 million visit the U.S. The rebound almost offsets the 5% falloff in arrivals last year -- the first decline since 2003. Foreign visits are expected to increase another 5% in each of the next three years. Because international visitors outspend American tourists by about 4 to 1, the rebound is especially welcome to hotels, restaurants and other travel related sectors.

Leading the tourist brigades are South Americans and Asians. Trips by South Americans will be up 11% this year versus last. Brazilians and Argentines, in particular, seem keen on visiting the States. Asian visitors will increase by 9%, with China, South Korea and India leading the way. The number of Japanese visitors was down 10% last year from 2008, but will climb by 5% this year and another 5% in 2011.

Figure on a more modest flow from Europe. “The euro is taking a pounding, and so it’s much more expensive for Europeans to come here,” says Ron Erdman of the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries at the U.S. Department of Commerce (opens in new tab). The United Kingdom, the top U.S. overseas market, saw a decrease of 15% last year, but will see a gain of 2% this year and next. Germany and France will also post slight gains -- 1% to 2% -- this year and next.

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New York City remains the top destination for foreign visitors, but Miami has replaced Los Angeles as the No. 2 spot. Other cities popular with overseas travelers include Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Visitors are staying put once they reach the U.S. and not traveling around the country as much as they used to. “There’s less domestic travel by air, fewer car rentals, and more use of city subways, buses and taxis,” says Erdman. Cultural and historical attractions in the cities are growing in popularity.

Martha Lynn Craver
Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter