Updating Our International Visitor Report Card on the Brink of Midterms

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Mark Okrant, the NH Travel Guru

By Mark Okrant, NH Travel Guru

As I’m writing this, your guru is awaiting the results of a historic midterm election. As one who is passionate about the travel and tourism industry, I decided to prepare myself for this milestone event by participating in the U.S. Travel Association’s Debrief about the status of the nation’s global tourism economy. I can report that things are looking okay . . . that is, pretty good, but not great.

The U.S. Travel Association projects that, owing to widespread growth in global GDP, long-haul travel will increase by approximately 77 percent between 2009 and 2019. From a historical perspective, the US experienced an 8 percent annual growth rate of long-haul inbound visitation between 2010 and 2015.

This ranked the nation ahead of the global average of 5 percent. However, between 2015 and 2017, the nation experienced approximately 0.3 percent growth, leaving us well behind the global average of approximately 7 percent.

Why the change? Shouldn’t we have been able to build upon successes at the beginning of this decade? To answer this question, we need to remind ourselves about a number of factors that have impacted long-haul international visitation since the turn of the century.  Among those key influences are: the 9/11 attacks, a lengthy recession, the recent growth in our dollar’s value, major weather events, changes in passport and visa policies, and a dramatic marketing effort (i.e., Brand USA). Each of these and other circumstances has impacted visitation to varying degrees.

One measure that the U.S. Travel Association and other industry people take seriously is global market share. The US share of global long-haul travel has dropped from a recent (2015) high of 13.8 percent to a projected 11.8 percent figure during 2018.  The U.S. Travel Association tells us that such a dramatic drop in market share comes at a cost. The organization estimates that 7.2 million more travelers would have spent an additional $31 billion and generated 96 thousand more jobs, had the US retained its 2015 market share during 2016 and 2017. Ouch!

What countries have been gaining in long-haul market share at our expense? Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, and Spain have experienced substantial increases as of late. In each case, a positive travel environment engendered by national government initiatives has played a significant role.

During the last several years, the US has experienced a gradual slippage in affinity as a travel destination—from a 37.5 percent expression of desire to visit in 2015 to 32.7 percent this year. Among our top thirteen inbound markets, the principal factor in staying away was the currency exchange rate. Other concerns were: safety, the relative cost of consumer goods in the US, the presence of ‘better’ destinations, not enough holiday time, required travel distance, and discomfort with the political climate in the US.

There is good news to report. U.S. Travel Association officials project that visitation on the part of most of our leading national travel markets is already rising during 2018, a pattern that is expected to continue through 2019. Let’s be ready to welcome our guests.

In April 2017, after forty years as an educator, researcher, consultant, and mystery writer, Mark Okrant joined IndepthNH.org. Mark shares his insight about the travel and tourism industry, focusing upon its importance to New Hampshire. From time to time, he’ll spin a humorous story or two, always looking to educate us about the industry he loves. 

Learn more about Mark’s tourism-based Kary Turnell murder mystery series by visiting www.markokrant.com.

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