The first few months of 2017 saw political pundits, tourism marketers and industry association leaders predict dire impacts on international travel to the United States given statements and policy proposals by the new U.S. administration. The “Trump Effect” was used as a basis to predict falling international visitor numbers against a backdrop of otherwise consistent positioning of the United States as the second most visited country in the world (after France) according to UNWTO statistics.
So what happened? Without any attempt at political commentary, it appears the facts prove otherwise. International visitor spending in the United States (including travel receipts, passenger fares with U.S. airlines and medical/education short-term stays) was higher in the first four months of 2017 than the corresponding period in 2016 (and each of the first four months of 2017 posted greater spending totals than the corresponding month in 2016). Spending to April 30, 2017 totalled US$83.4 billion, about a 2.5% increase over 2016 and the highest-ever aggregate spending over this period.
Where the pundits may be correct is that the pace of growth experienced in past years has not held up in 2017. And, when compared with growth in international inbound travel to Canada, the United States pales in comparison. (Note the table below compares year-over-year quarterly percentage increases in international visitor spending in the United States with the number of international visitors to Canada.)
The first quarter (even the first four months) is probably the weakest indicator of annual tourism performance, but the data to date suggest the “Trump Effect” may not be as negative as first thought.