It is now July 2015 and the tour and travel industry has no 2015 information on international arrivals to the United States. Frustrated travel suppliers, who are accustomed to some delay –but not a half-year—in accessing the information so that they can adjust their marketing programs accordingly, have told us of how unreal it is, for example, to expect arrivals from Brazil to increase by five percent, year-on-year in 2015; yet, this is the projection contained in last month’s month official, semi-annual long-term forecast released by the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO).
While NTTO is pretty much on target in its projections, the five percent increase projected for Brazil this year, our sources tell us, is unrealistic to anyone who actually sells to the market, pointing out that, in Brazil:
- The economy slipped into a technical recession in the first quarter of this year and is still there (a June 19 report in Bloomberg News said the nation is bracing “for its worst recession in 25 years after the central bank reported that the economy contracted more than forecast in April”);
- The sale of smartphones—a major source of researching and booking travel—plummeted 16 percent, year-on-year for the month May 2015 (after falling by one percent in April);
- Purchases by credit card (most travel purchases in Brazil are made in payments spread out over a year) decreased sharply at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, a period during which many consumers purchase their travel and travel packages;
- The nation’s currency, the Real, sunk to a 12-year low against the U.S. dollar this past March ($1.00 = 3.20 reales vs. 1.66 in 2010) and has hovered at about that level since then;
- Anecdotal reports from receptive tour operators that travel to the U.S. in June—a major month for travel abroad by Brazilians—was weak; and
- A recent report by CVC, the largest tour operator in the nation, indicated that many Brazilians were opting for travel within the country this year.
Why We Can’t Get the Numbers
The National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) agency sent a June 29 message to those who use its services indicating that it has not issued any monthly arrivals data this year, citing technical problems (that) are affecting I-94 Program data gathered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and used … to calculate arrivals to the United States.
“NTTO takes its responsibility as the only source of arrivals data seriously and is working diligently with its CBP colleagues to resolve all of the issues. We believe that once we find resolution, our arrivals data will be more robust and timely than it has been in past years.”
NTTO said that the delivery of 2015 I-94 arrivals data is delayed because of several issues that surfaced in late April 2015. DHS/CBP began to experience a backlog in data entry of paper I-94s. These paper I-94s primarily affect Guam (the 9th largest overseas U.S. port of entry in 2014), which is a non-electronic port of entry and one of the only CBP location still generating a large number of paper I-94s.
Meanwhile, CBP is in the process of completing an enterprise-wide transition to Oracle for all of its data systems. This program will ultimately provide NTTO with additional and more timely U.S. arrivals data, such as the Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS), which could enhance international arrivals information, including better data on current residency and length of stay in the United States.
Also, CBP is in the process of conducting a pilot program to determine if ADIS provides comparable and better quality data to the I-94 Arrivals Program. If this pilot program is successful, NTTO make a transition from the I-94 Legacy System to ADIS. However, the agency said, “ADIS will introduce new business rules that will require a period of NTTO testing and verification to ensure data quality.”
In other words, we are likely going to have to wait until … the market recovers in Brazil before its slump becomes statistically official.