International travel is key to the president’s priorities

International travel is key to the president’s priorities
© Getty Images

Since the early days of his campaign, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE has identified the U.S. trade imbalance and the flight of jobs abroad as major economic concerns that his administration will address. To help meet these priorities, we hope he looks at one area of the economy with which he’s quite familiar: international travel.

Inbound travel is our country’s second-largest export, and international travelers are some of this country’s most valuable consumers. They spend billions of dollars annually at hotels, restaurants and retail stores while visiting destinations across the country. The benefits of these dollars stretch far beyond the travel industry itself, to a wide swath of economic sectors and to every corner of the country: in total, travel supports $2.3 trillion in economic output annually and 15.3 million American jobs.


Those jobs are some of the best there are in fulfilling the American dream for people across the country. Travel-related jobs are among the highest-paying for non-college-educated Americans. Perhaps best of all: they cannot be outsourced.


And while travel in general is a roaring economic engine, international inbound travel is particularly lucrative. Overseas visitors to the United States spend an average of $4,400 per person, per trip — that’s significantly higher than Americans spend when we go abroad — and stay an average of 18 nights. Whether they’re visiting Mount Rushmore or New York City, Austin or Boston, international travelers are supporting businesses large and small in our cities and towns.

But the United States is leaving a lot of these benefits on the table.

Global long-haul travel increased 7.9 percent from 2015 to 2017, from which the United States — historically a leading global travel destination — should have received a significant economic boost. The problem: the U.S. portion of the growing global travel pie shrunk in the same period, from a post-9/11 peak of 13.6 percent in 2015 to 11.9 percent last year.

That 1.7 percent decrease may not seem like a huge deal. But to put it in perspective, if we had merely maintained our 2015 market share, our economy would have benefitted from 7.4 million additional overseas visitors, $32.2 billion in additional spending — and 100,000 additional American jobs.

By contrast, many of our competitors in Europe and Asia have seized the opportunity and grown their own share of that market in the same period. France’s global travel market share is up, as is Germany’s, the United Kingdom’s and China’s. Strikingly, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just announced that Spain has surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s second-most-visited country after France.

And unlike many industrial sectors, the battle for tourism dollars truly is a zero-sum game: a traveler choosing to visit another country means their money stays out of our economy, plain and simple.

This should be deemed unacceptable by a president who extols America’s greatness in all things. And in terms of its attractiveness as a destination, we strongly agree that America is simply unmatched: no other country can offer the quality and variety of experiences we can, whether your preference is shopping and eating in a world-class city, lying on a warm beach, skiing on a breathtaking mountain, or hiking through a secluded forest. We’ve got it all.

As for the recent slide in our global tourism market share, the good and bad news is that we’ve been here before. The precipitous drop in travel to the United States after 9/11 is referred to as “the lost decade” in our industry. But that period also teaches us that the problem is fixable.

That’s why the American Gaming Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, American Society of Association Executives, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, Society of Independent Show Organizers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Travel Association have come together with cross-industry stakeholders who are committed to growing the U.S. economy to launch the Visit U.S. Coalition.

Our message is simple: We can welcome and encourage legitimate international travel while supporting the measures necessary to keep our country safe. We want to work with the Trump administration to ensure that the United States is both the most secure and most-visited country in the world, because a growing tourism industry is key to a growing economy.

This should be a matter of national interest. Reversing the decline in inbound travel is essential to sustained economic expansion, including the president’s targeted annual GDP growth rate of 3 percent.

Moreover, encouraging international travel to the United States serves a larger purpose: It is a unique opportunity to show overseas tourists what makes America great.

Roger Dow is president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association in Washington. He formerly was with Marriott International for 34 years. Katherine Lugar is president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the U.S. lodging industry’s largest trade association, and oversees the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation.