The steep and steady decline in the U.S. share of the lucrative international travel market is set to continue until at least 2022, according to the latest forecast figures from the U.S. Travel Association.
U.S. global long-haul travel market share is on a four-year slide since its previous high of 13.7 percent in 2015, falling to 11.7 percent in 2018. The decline in market share represents losses to the U.S. economy of 14 million international visitors, $59 billion in international traveler spending, and 120,000 U.S. jobs.
But the market-share drop is now forecast to continue, dipping under 11 percent in 2022, the latest out-year in the U.S. Travel forecast.
Between now and 2022, that would mean a further economic hit of 41 million visitors, $180 billion in international traveler spending and 266,000 jobs.
"Everyone is wondering how much longer the U.S. economic expansion can go on, and shoring up our international travel market share would be a great way to help it continue," said U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Barnes. "There are some tools in the policy toolbox that will help fix it, and we're not talking about huge taxpayer-funded spending outlays. Passing legislation to renew Brand USA is the most immediate move to help correct this problem, and we hope this shows Congress the urgency of getting that done this year."
U.S. Travel economists point to several factors for the gloomy international inbound forecast, foremost among them the continued, historic strength of the U.S. dollar, which makes traveling here from other countries much more expensive. Other factors include ongoing trade tensions, which materially dampen the demand for travel, and stiff competition from rivals for international tourism dollars.
Brand USA, the organization tasked with promoting the U.S. globally as a travel destination, is up for renewal via bills that have been introduced in both the House and Senate. Barnes said the latest market share data makes passing that legislation more crucial than ever.
Brand USA was authorized by Congress a decade ago as an answer to the aggressive tourism marketing campaigns by countries that compete with the U.S. for travel market share. But unlike almost every other national tourism program, Brand USA operates at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer—it is funded by a small fee on certain international visitors to the U.S., plus contributions from the private sector. Meanwhile, Brand USA's work generates an overall return on investment of 25 to 1.
That Brand USA funding mechanism is currently set to expire soon—a problem the House and Senate bills would fix.
And the bills come along not a moment too soon. A study released earlier this year shows that Brand USA's work brought in 6.6 million incremental international visitors to the U.S. between 2013 and 2018, at a return-on-investment of $28 in visitor spending for every $1 the agency spent on marketing.
There are some other policy moves to help address the market-share problem without big taxpayer price tags, Barnes said, such as: renaming and expanding the Visa Waiver Program, expanding Customs' Global Entry program and focusing on lowering both Customs entry wait times and visa processing wait times, especially in commercially pivotal markets such as China.
"Most Americans believe the U.S. should be the world leader in everything—and with all the incredible things you can see and do in every corner of this country, that is especially true of international tourism," said Barnes. "But reclaiming our market share is not just a matter of pride—it is economically vital, and can help sustain our GDP expansion when we're seeing some other headwinds on the horizon. Recapturing our market share should, by all rights, be a national priority."