- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tourism-related sales rose 6.9 percent to reach a record $1.2 trillion in the United States last year, but private-sector travel groups continued to warn that the United States is losing ground to other countries.

International travelers spent $107.4 billion while traveling to and in the United States last year, which is a 5 percent increase from 2005 and beat a record set in 2000, according to the Commerce Department, which released the figures yesterday.

About 51.1 million international tourists visited the United States last year, up 3 percent from 2005.

“The United States remains a popular tourist destination for international visitors, and the industry is breaking records,” said Commerce Deputy Secretary David A. Sampson. “U.S. travel and tourism ended 2006 strongly and it looks like the momentum is continuing into 2007. This is good news for the U.S. economy and the many jobs the U.S. travel and tourism industry supports.”

The private sector wasn’t as enthusiastic.

The numbers “mask what’s really going on in our industry,” said Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the Travel Industry Association, a Washington trade group that represents all parts of the travel industry. “When we look overseas, that’s when we begin to see the problem.”

All of last year’s increase in international travel came from Canadians and Mexicans. The number of Canadian and Mexican tourists to the United States jumped 8 percent and 27 percent, respectively, to 29.4 million.

The number of overseas travelers remained the same at 21.7 million.

Overseas travelers are more significant to the travel industry because they tend to stay in the United States longer and spend more money while visiting. For example, international travelers to New York account for 13 percent of the total number of tourists to that city, but account for 43 percent of tourist spending there, Mr. Dow said.

Plus, other countries have ramped up their tourism advertising in recent years, Mr. Dow said. More people all over the world are traveling, but the United States’ international market share isn’t growing as quickly as other countries’ share.

“The pie is getting bigger and our slice is shrinking,” he said.

The travel group says international visitors aren’t coming to the United States because they find the visa process (in countries where a visa is required) to be cumbersome and time consuming, and aren’t clear on what they need to enter the country.

Rather than sort out the confusion, travelers elect to go to other countries.

Accordingly, the travel industry has been lobbying for funding for a national tourism campaign, as well as a more efficient visa program for international visitors and an improved customs process.

Mr. Dow said yesterday that the TIA is in serious talks with senior senators to introduce legislation to fund a national tourism campaign. In March, the Senate passed a bill implementing reforms suggested by the September 11 commission, which included an expansion of the visa waiver program.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide