Foreign travel to the US tumbles, new figures show

Fewer international travellers came to the United States during the first few months of this year than over the same period last year.
Fewer international travellers came to the United States during the first few months of this year than over the same period last year.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Fewer international travelers came to the United States during the first few months of this year than over the same period last year, confirming concerns of some in the travel industry.

New figures released by the US Department of Commerce show a drop in international visitors to the United States by close to 700,000 in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the previous year.

European countries were down 10.1 per cent, and Mexico was off 7.1 per cent in the quarter.

The largest drops were from the Middle East and Africa, though they represent a much smaller percentage of overall travel to the United States.

Overall, 697,791 fewer foreigners visited the United States in the first three months of the year, down 4.2 per cent to 15.8 million.

According to Tourism Economics, a branch of Oxford Economics based in Wayne, Pennsylvania, that analyses travel data, the drop represents a loss of nearly $2.7 billion in spending.

As points of comparison, the first quarter of 2013, after the re-election of Barack Obama, international tourism was up 6.4 per cent, and the first quarter of 2009, after Obama's first election (and during global recession that began at the end of 2008), it was down 14.3 per cent.

The question of whether the results prove a ripple effect from President Donald Trump's proposed travel ban on visitors from six majority-Muslim countries, an expanded wall along the Mexican border and anti-immigrant statements remains unanswered.

But the data tracks with a decline in US favorability abroad: In June, the Pew Research Center found that 49 per cent of those surveyed in 37 nations had a positive view of the United States, versus 64 per cent at the end of Obama's term in office.

Last week, Pew reported that nearly two-thirds of Mexicans held a negative opinion of the United States, more than double the figure of two years ago, which stood at 29 per cent.

"It's not a reach to say the rhetoric and policies of this administration are affecting sentiment around the world, creating antipathy toward the US and affecting travel behavior," said Adam Sacks, the president of Tourism Economics.