Monday, December 30, 2013

International Tourism: 1 Billion Trips, $1 Trillion in Receipts

International tourism is an underappreciated global industry. Total international tourist trips now top 1 billion per year and $1 trillion in receipts, according to the UN World Tourism Organization, in its "Tourism Highlights: 2013 Edition:" "Despite occasional shocks, international tourist arrivals have shown virtually uninterrupted growth – from 25 million in 1950, to 278 million in 1980, 528 million in 1995, and 1,035 million in 2012. ... International tourism receipts reached US$ 1,075 billion worldwide in 2012, up from US$ 1,042 billion in 2011."

International tourism is rising quickly, and projected to hit 1.8 billion by 2030. Most of that gain is coming from emerging economies. The UNWTO writes: "The market share of emerging economies increased from 30% in 1980 to 47% in 2012, and is expected to reach 57% by 2030, equivalent to
over one billion international tourist arrivals. ... China became the number one source market in the world in 2012, spending US$ 102 billion on international tourism."

Of course, the U.S. is at a geographic disadvantage in the international tourism statistics, because as a large country with an ocean on either side, and bordering only two other countries, it's not likely to get the same number of international tourists, as, say, smaller European countries where you can drive. To take a not entirely hypothetical example, a beleaguered Minnesotan freezing his toes off in near-zero weather who is thinking about a trip to Florida or Arizona is not counted as an international tourist, but a Swede or German thinking about visiting Greece or the south of France would be an international tourist. Most tourists visit in their own region. Here are the UNWTO stats on the countries with the largest arrivals of international tourists.

But it's important to note that when international tourists come to the United States, it is a form of exporting: that is, in both cases U.S. producers receive income from foreign buyers. A McKinsey Global Institute report a couple of years ago looked at opportunities in different sectors for job creation and noted: "[T]o reach the high-job-growth scenario, the United States needs to retake lost ground in global tourism. ... In particular, the United States is not getting its share of tourism from a rising global middle class. More Chinese tourists visit France than the United States, for example."

The U.S. Travel Association is the leading industry trade group for promoting the U.S. tourism industry. Earlier this year, it put out "Gateway to Jobs and Growth: Creating a Better Traveler Entry Process." The emphasis of the report is to point out ways that the process for long-haul international tourists entering the U.S. could be streamlines, while still respecting security needs. But along the way, the report also tosses out some facts about international tourist in the U.S. economy:

"Between 2000 and 2012, the number of long-haul worldwide travelers  increased by 78.8 million.  During that time, the U.S. share of global long-haul  travel fell from 17 percent in 2000 to just 12.9 percent in 2012. The bottom line: Tens of millions of new travelers went somewhere other than the U.S." If U.S. international tourism had kept pace with the international trends, it would have meant an extra 100 million tourists over the last decade or so. The report also notes:

"International visitors to the U.S. – especially from overseas – stay longer and spend more money than domestic travelers. One particularly important trend in  the global travel market is the boom in travel from the rapidly expanding middle  and upper classes of the emerging economies in the developing world, countries  like Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). While overseas visitors, on average, spend nearly $4,500 per person per trip, visitors from China and Brazil spend much more: $5,200 for Brazil and $6,000 for China.  Several of the BRIC countries have shown major passenger increases to the U.S. in recent years (2007–2012), including China (271%), Brazil (180%) and India (28%). These statistics show the importance of the BRIC countries and other emerging markets to global travel growth. Increasing international travel has helped make travel the nation’s largest service  export. In economic terms, international travel is counted as an export because dollars come into the country in the same way as they do when foreigners buy American cars, grain or software. Every 33 overseas visitors who travel to America support one U.S. job."
My sense is that a lot of Americans still tend to think of the United States as a source of tourists headed other places, but not primarily as a destination for international tourists. Having the rest of the world see how America works (and in some ways doesn't work) is important for many reasons. But international tourism is affected by nonmonetary costs, including the costs of time and energy to fulfill the paperwork in entering the country, as well as the ease with which an international traveler can navigate around the country. In the globalizing world economy, it's time for the U.S. to think about what it would take to roll out the welcome mat for international travelers.