With an expenditure of US$80.0 bn in 2008 (+5.0% on 2007), the USA continues to be ranked second in the world (after Germany) by the World Tourism Organization, in terms of spending on travel abroad (excluding transport).
The proportion of US citizens holding valid passports has risen rapidly in the last few years, especially since the implementation of the WHTI, to around one third of the total population.
US outbound travel achieved a record 64.1 mn trips in 2007, but fell by 1% to 63.6 mn in 2008. The numbers of overseas trips began to fall in July 2008, a trend which continued through the first four months of 2009.
Trips to Europe fell by 9% to 11.2 mn in 2008 and were still 16% short of their peak in 2000. They fell a further 10% in the first four months of 2009.
The decline in value of the US dollar and the rise in air fares (caused by the increase in international oil prices) made Europe a more expensive destination for Americans in 2005-07, dampening demand. The economic crisis is making further inroads into demand in 2008-09, but the decline may be mitigated by the partial recovery in value of the US dollar.
Also positive is the fact that, after falling to a record law in February 2009, US costumer confidence has been rising steadily, reaching 40.8% in April and 54.9 in May (1985=100).
Some industry observers believe we will see the start of a recovery in US outbound travel this year, but it seems safe to assume that relatively close destinations – such as the Caribbean and Central America – will benefit at the expense of Europe and Asia.
However, there are still good opportunities in tapping the growing numbers of ‘baby boomers’ in the USA, many of whom have much more time for travel abroad and are looking to visit longer-haul destinations.