Foreign travelers to the United States bring billions of dollars into the economy each year. But that flow of people and money now appears to be at risk.
Last year set a record for tourism: 78.6 million foreign travelers came to the United States in 2018. But following that banner year, tourism is now in a slump. Travel in early 2019 is in decline, particularly from Canada, Mexico, China and South Korea. That slowdown started taking place in the second half of last year.
The travel industry is worried about how severe, and long lasting, that decline could be.
Tourism is a serious economic driver for the American economy. The United States enjoyed a $69 billion surplus on international travel last year, reducing the country’s overall trade deficit by 11%, according to Tori Barnes, executive vice president of the US Travel Association, the industry trade group. On average, foreign travelers spend $4,000 each on visits to the United States. Chinese tourists spend about $7,000.
“It’s a really significant economic impact,” said Barnes.
Companies that rely on foreign tourism are starting to feel the decline in travel: For example, Tiffany’s reported disappointing sales this week, in part because of a drop in purchases by foreign tourists at its US stores.
Why travel to the United States is down
Experts point to a number of factors working against travelers coming to the United States.
“It’s a relatively strong US dollar. It’s a slowing global economy. And it’s politics. It’s a trifecta of factors all reducing travel to the US,” said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, a part of Oxford Economics.