US Travel Sector Retains Number One Status in the World

Los Angeles, United States - October 20th, 2018: Southwest Airlines landing at LAX (Tom Bradley International Airport) in Los Angeles at mid day.
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a large body of water with a city in the background: Landmarks of New York City, USA (Photo via spyarm / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The United States has retained its status as the world’s largest travel and tourism economy despite a standstill in international visitors from China, according to newly released research from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

The new data shows that the U.S. was the biggest travel and tourism market in the world in 2018, contributing nearly $1.6 trillion to the GDP. That figure translates into about 7.5 percent of the country’s GDP, with the travel and tourism sector growing about 2.2 percent last year (when accounting for inflation.)

The report also notes, however, that after registering average annual growth of 23 percent over the previous decade, Chinese travel to the US was flat last year, a fact attributed at least in part to the rising trade tensions between the two countries under the Trump administration.

Visitors from China account for about four percent of the total visitors to the United States, but notably represent 11 percent of all spending, demonstrating their economic importance to the country, said the report.

“After recording 10 years of stellar growth, international visitor numbers from China were flat year on year, caused in part by the deteriorating trade relations between the two countries,” said WTTC President & CEO Gloria Guevara. “Given the economic importance of Chinese visitors, any thawing in the trade relations between the two countries would have a positive effect for the wider US economy.”

The WTTC has been gathering data about the economic contribution of the travel and tourism sector across 185 countries for the past 25 years.

This year’s analysis for the United States shows that the direct, indirect, and induced impact of travel and tourism accounted for:

$1,595 billion, 7.8 percent of United States GDP (2.2 percent real annual increase)

15.6 million jobs

$198.8 billion in spending by international visitors (0.9 percent annual decrease)

“Travel and tourism has been a consistent driver of employment in the United States,” continued Guevara. “The sector creates jobs, drives exports and generates prosperity. Its continued resilience and our projections for growth serve to highlight the importance of the industry to the US economy. The US is the biggest travel market in the world, the sector is integral to the country’s broader economic performance and must be prioritized.”

The WTTC also issued a variety of recommendations designed to strengthen the US travel sector and ensure it remains both robust and competitive. The organization suggested that policymakers focus on such things as preserving Brand USA, the country’s destination marketing organization.

“We support the renewal of Brand USA this year—a program with broad bipartisan support—beyond its current 2020 authorization to continue marketing the US as a premier global travel and tourism destination,” said WTTC in a statement.

WTTC also suggested policymakers set their sites on expanding and rebranding the US visa waiver program.

“With its bilateral security and travel facilitation benefits, we support the rebranding of the VWP as the ‘Secure Travel Partnership Program’ and its expansion beyond the current 38 participating nations to other qualified countries,” said the WTTC.

In addition, the WTTC urged the U.S. to focus on modernizing airports and other infrastructure. Lastly, the organization advocated for increased use of biometric passenger identification.

“WTTC recognizes and supports the biometric passenger identification and processing initiative, an area where the US is leading the world,” said the statement. “The work being undertaken by US Customs and Border Protection for the roll-out of a seamless traveler experience is helping us to transform the passenger experience, enhance security and create jobs.”

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