United States

Tourism in the economy

Travel and tourism is a major contributor to the economy of the United States, accounting for 2.7% of GDP. Travel and tourism-related exports accounted for 33% of all United States services exports and 11% of total exports in 2016.

According to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Satellite Accounts, the industry produced USD 1.5 trillion in total economic output in 2016 (USD 894 billion of direct tourism output plus USD 646 billion of indirect tourism output by ancillary industries). The travel and tourism industry is one of the United States’ largest employers, supporting more than 7.6 million jobs in 2016, of which 1.2 million were supported by travel and tourism-related exports.

The United States welcomed a record 75.9 million international visitors in 2016. The largest source markets are Canada and Mexico, followed by the United Kingdom, Japan and China. International visitors collectively spent USD 245 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States in 2016. In order of contribution (spending in USD), the top international market for travel and tourism-related exports was China, followed by the other four countries identified above.

Tourism governance and funding

Travel and tourism in the United States is highly decentralised. Public authorities manage travel and tourism at the national, regional, state, and local levels. These include the federal government, state governments, and destination marketing organisations (DMOs).

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 and represents the United States in inter-governmental fora, including the OECD and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation. NTTO is the source of official tourism statistics, and works to enhance the competitive position of the United States with respect to travel and tourism. Additionally, NTTO works closely with ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service at U.S. missions 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 that promotes travel to the United States and works with the United States government to communicate the entry process for international visitors. Brand USA’s Board of Directors is appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, and the NTTO is the official government liaison to Brand USA.

The federal government does not regulate travel and tourism as a distinct industry, although some sectors, such as transport, are regulated at the federal level. The Department of Commerce serves as a facilitator between the private sector and other federal agencies for policy coordination with respect to travel and tourism issues. States and local governments may regulate the conduct of travel and tourism business within their jurisdictions.

The process of policy deliberation at the Department of Commerce includes:

  • 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 to provide policy input 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 considered in federal decision-making. Its major function is to coordinate national policies and programmes of federal agencies that have a significant effect on international travel and tourism, recreation, and national heritage resources. The TPC reviews and considers TTAB recommendations and provides additional insight from the public sector perspective on issues affecting travel and tourism nationally.

United States: Organisational chart of tourism bodies

Source: OECD, adapted from the United States Department of Commerce, 2018.

NTTO is allocated resources from a congressional appropriation to the Department of Commerce. In addition, NTTO sells research reports and data to generate additional operating revenues, while inter-agency agreements also generate funds. NTTO’s operational budget for FY2016 was approximately USD 5.6 million from all sources.

TTAB participation is funded by the private sector members and TPC participation is funded by the relevant agencies.

Brand USA is supported by a portion of the fees charged for the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA), paid by international travellers coming to the United States from countries participating in the visa waiver programme. Up to USD 100 million is made available each year to Brand USA to match qualified private sector contributions.

Tourism policies and programmes

The United States continues to implement its 2012 National Travel and Tourism Strategy. The Strategy set the goal to increase American jobs by attracting 100 million international visitors annually, who are estimated to spend USD 250 billion, by the end of 2021. The Strategy also encourages Americans to travel within the United States and its territories and see all that the country has to offer. At the half-way point of its implementation, the United States has nearly reached the spending goal and is working with the private sector to evaluate a new target. To meet these goals, and to ensure that the United States is creating conditions for growth, the United States is focused on promotion, travel facilitation, the visitor experience, a whole-of-government approach, and research.

Several actions have been taken towards increasing the United States’ share of long-haul travel, including destination marketing efforts; improvements in visa processes; the development of public-private partnerships aimed at improving the arrivals experience; and the expanded use of trusted traveller programs (which have continued to break records in terms of levels of enrolment), kiosks, and other technological enhancements in arrival processes at ports of entry.

To meet growing customer demand, the Department of Homeland Security is engaging with public and private sector partners on an array of initiatives, such as enhancing the queuing area of primary entry, improved signage that is easily understood by international travellers, wait-time monitoring and reporting.

Enhancing safety and security of travel to the United States

To ensure the safety and security of travellers and the nation, the United States is requiring new security measures to be applied to all commercial inbound flights. These measures will be phased in over time and include enhanced screening of electronic devices, more thorough passenger vetting, and new measures designed to mitigate the potential threat of insider attacks.

The United States is also aiming to encourage airlines and airports to adopt more sophisticated screening approaches, including better use of explosive detection canines and advanced checkpoint screening technology. In the meantime, the United States will work closely with international partners to put in place wider counter-terrorism improvements, including better information sharing, expanded exchanges of terrorist watch lists, and more advanced security checks of travellers around the world.

While the United States is specifically focused on improving the security of U.S.-bound flights, the hope is that other nations will follow suit to raise security standards so that all countries are protected from current and emerging threats.

The United States is piloting a biometric exit system utilising existing airport and airline infrastructure; leveraging existing stakeholder systems and processes; and using existing traveller data and IT infrastructure. The system aims to provide a more seamless travel experience, enhance security for inbound and outbound travel, improve business processes, and enable stronger collaboration between government and the private sector.

Other policy priorities for the United States include a focus on emerging markets, such as China and India; natural disaster recovery measures to assist affected businesses; and measuring results, such as the visitor arrival experience.

Statistical profile

Table 1. United States: Domestic, inbound and outbound tourism


Table 2. United States: Enterprises and employment in tourism


Table 3. United States: Internal tourism consumption
Million USD