The U.S. Is In Danger Of Killing Our Tourism Golden Goose

Readers of this blog, or who work in the travel and tourism industry, already know that global tourism today is driven by the outbound Chinese travel market. At more than 130 million strong and rapidly growing, Chinese travelers are the world’s largest visitor group and the biggest spenders (averaging $6,000 per visitor per stay) when traveling abroad. The good news is that the US ranks 6th among all nations as the destination of choice among our Chinese visitors, following nearby Thailand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia. China is forecast to become our #1 visitor source to the US by 2021, leapfrogging both Canada and Mexico.

Based on US Commerce Department data, in 2016, the US travel and tourism industry was responsible for 11% of all US exports and 33% of service exports. With one out of every 18 Americans employed – either directly or indirectly – in tourism-related jobs, the industry currently accounts for 2.7% of the US GDP. International travelers produce a disproportionate share of travel-related spending, totaling $244.7 billion and yielding an $83.9 billion trade surplus for our economy last year.

And no international visitors to the US are as productive as those from China.

China’s nearly three million US visitors last year spent more than any visitor group in this country, outspending our Canadian and Mexican visitors by more than $10 billion and spending more than our British and Japanese visitors COMBINED. The importance of China to our tourism exports is also highlighted by the fact that last year seven out of ten of our tourism source markets saw a decline in spending while spending by our Chinese visitors increased 9%.

Last year, tourism spending in California injected a record $126 billion into the state’s economy, accounted for $10.3 billion in state and local taxes and generated 1.1 million jobs. Spending by all international visitors in California equaled the combined value of the state’s top four product exports – civilian aircraft, computer parts, non-industrial diamonds and voice/image/data equipment.

California’s “star” international visitors were the Chinese – the 1.3 million Chinese nationals, a significant number of which came here as members of Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) groups, a segment of the market that has registered double-digit growth year after year. Bottom line: these visitors spent more than $2.9 billion on their travels in my home state.

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