Stars, Stripes, and Soaring Stats: U.S. Tourism’s Blockbuster Year!

The United States hospitality industry received a major boost in 2011, as the country set a new all-time high for international visitor arrivals. According to fresh data from the U.S. Commerce Department, over 62.3 million overseas tourists visited America last year, an increase of 4.2% compared to 2010.

This influx of foreign visitors substantially benefited the U.S. economy. Total spending by international tourists rose 13% to reach $152.4 billion for the year. The lion’s share of this spending ($115.7 billion) went towards food, hotels, retail, transportation, entertainment and other tourism-related goods and services. The remaining $36.7 billion consisted of payments to U.S. airlines for international airfare.

The travel boom was fueled by growth from both traditional and emerging markets. As usual, Canada and Mexico accounted for over half of all international arrivals in America, reflecting the ease of access for our immediate neighbors. But the U.S. also enjoyed rising visitation from overseas travelers, who are especially coveted by the tourism industry. Overseas visitors tend to take longer trips and spend more per day than those from neighboring countries. In 2011, overseas arrivals increased by 5.8% to 27.9 million, representing 44.8% of all foreign visitors to America. This share has been steadily rising over the past decade.

When looking at world regions, Western Europe remained the largest source of overseas tourists by far. Nearly 12 million Western Europeans visited the U.S. in 2011, thanks to America’s historic ties with countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. There are concerns however that Europe’s ongoing economic crisis could hamper future growth from that region.

Therefore, tourism officials were encouraged by the strong performance in 2011 from several fast-growing, long-haul markets. Arrivals from South America, for example, surged 15.6%. Australia and New Zealand sent 13.5% more visitors. Eastern Europe and the Middle East also posted double-digit growth at 11% and 10.2% respectively.

Among individual countries, China registered the biggest jump with arrivals soaring 36%. Brazil and Australia also recorded impressive double-digit increases. Meanwhile, arrivals from Japan declined slightly, resulting in more modest 3.2% growth for Asia overall. But momentum continues to build from China and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Within the top 10 source markets, the United Kingdom was a notable laggard. The U.K. has long been America’s largest overseas tourism market. But arrivals remain well below their peak of 4.7 million in 2000. The U.K. sent just 3.8 million visitors to the U.S. in 2011 as the country struggled with economic malaise.

In summary, international tourism hit new heights in the U.S. during 2011 across metrics like visitor volume, market share, spending, and arrivals from high-potential regions. This growing global demand presents a major opportunity for America’s travel and hospitality sectors.