United States

Travel and tourism in the United States is a major contributor to the national economy, accounting for 2.9% of GVA. In 2018, inbound travel and tourism accounted for 10% of exports. According to the Travel and Tourism Satellite Account, the industry produced USD 1.6 trillion in total economic output in 2018 (USD 941 billion of direct tourism output and USD 682 billion of indirect tourism output by ancillary industries). The travel and tourism industry is one of the United States’ largest employers, directly supporting 5.9 million jobs in 2018, of which 1.2 million were supported by travel and tourism-related exports. Travel exports represented 26.0% of total service exports in 2018.

The United States welcomed a record 79.7 million international visitors in 2018. The largest source markets were Canada (26.9% of international tourists) and Mexico (23.1%), followed by the United Kingdom (5.8%), Japan (4.4%) and China (3.8%). International visitors collectively spent USD 256 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States in 2018. In order of spending, the top international markets for U.S. tourism are China, Canada, Mexico, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Domestic tourists took 2.3 billion trips in 2018, up 1.9% over 2017, with 1.7 billion overnight tourists and 632.1 million day visitors

Travel and tourism in the United States is highly decentralised. In addition to the federal government, individual states and destinations manage travel and tourism for their jurisdictions, including marketing. These activities are undertaken by the federal government, state governments and destination marketing organisations.

The National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), within the International Trade Administration (ITA) of the United States Department of Commerce, serves as the central point of contact within the federal government. The NTTO is the source of official tourism statistics to inform public policy and private sector business decisions, and works to enhance the competitive position of the United States with respect to travel and tourism. The NTTO works closely with ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service at U.S. embassies and consulates in more than 70 overseas markets to promote travel and tourism exports. The Corporation for Travel Promotion (CTP), formed in 2010 and operating as Brand USA, is a non-profit corporation established by federal statute that promotes travel to the United States and works with the government to provide useful information for international visitors. The NTTO is the official United States government liaison to Brand USA.

The federal government does not regulate travel and tourism as a distinct industry, although related sectors, such as transport, are regulated at the federal level. The Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission enforces federal laws against unfair, deceptive or fraudulent business practices, including in the travel and tourism industry. The Department of Commerce ensures that the views of the private sector are shared with other federal agencies and are considered in the development of federal policy with respect to travel and tourism issues. States and local governments regulate the conduct of travel and tourism business within their jurisdictions.

Key travel and tourism activities at the Department of Commerce include:

  • The U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB) – consisting of up to 32 private sector representatives from companies and organisations in the travel and tourism industry, who are appointed by and provide policy advice to the Secretary of Commerce.

  • The Tourism Policy Council (TPC) – an inter-agency council established by law for the purpose of ensuring that the nation’s tourism interests are fully considered in federal decision-making. Its major function is to co-ordinate national policies and programmes of federal agencies that have a significant effect on international travel and tourism, recreation, and national heritage resources.

NTTO data also informs air services liberalisation deliberations, including the negotiation of Open Skies agreements. The NTTO sells research reports and data to generate additional operating revenues, while inter-agency agreements also generate funds.

The NTTO’s operational budget for 2018 was approximately USD 5.1 million. In addition to its operational budget, the NTTO approves up to USD 100 million from the Travel Promotion Fund for use by Brand USA. Brand USA is supported by a portion of the fees charged for the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation paid by international travellers participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.

The United States is focused on better managing travel and tourism growth generated by increasing customer demand. The 2012 National Travel and Tourism Strategy set the goal to increase American jobs by attracting 100 million international visitors annually, estimated to spend USD 250 billion, by the end of 2021. As the spending goal was met in 2017, the United States looked to set a new target for visitation and spending. The TTAB recommended a target of USD 445 billion in spending and 116 million international visitors annually, by the end of 2028. To date, there has been general agreement of this new target across the TPC agencies. To meet this goal, and to ensure that the United States is creating conditions for growth, the United States is focused on reviewing and revising the National Strategy to include current initiatives and to ensure the tactics are still relevant.

To meet growing demand, the United States is evolving the entry and exit processes using biometrics (see box). In addition to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveller programmes, the United States is piloting a biometric entry and exit system. The system aims to provide a more seamless travel experience and enhance security for inbound and outbound travel, improve business processes and enable stronger collaboration between government and the private sector. The biometrics entry/exit system enhances and facilitates data-sharing while utilising existing airport and airline infrastructure; leverages existing stakeholder systems and processes; and uses existing traveller data and IT infrastructure.

With record-low unemployment in the United States, and the emergence of new technology, a priority for the United States is ensuring that all sectors, including travel and tourism, have the workforce they need now and in the future. To address employment issues, in 2018, the U.S. government created the National Council for the American Worker to develop and implement a strategy to prepare workers for today’s jobs and for the jobs of the future. The Administration also created an outside board—the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board to guide the National Council by bringing the latest thinking and experience from business, education, states and cities, organised labour, and other institutions that have a role in educating and training American workers.

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