Still the largest source market for overseas visitors to the United States, the UK is, the data clearly show, not strengthening its position. As a source market, China, which is now ranked Number three, could well surpass the UK by the end of 2020.
Two reports issued last week—the monthly update on overseas tourism from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the release of preliminary data full-year arrivals figures for 2016, along with monthly figures for December 2016 from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO)—show that visits to the USA from the UK ended last year at a level that was 10 percent less than it was in 2015. And this year, through May, the ONS said that visits to North America (usually, about 90 percent of the number goes to the United States) were down 3 percent vs. the same period last year. Some other data from the ONS monthly report:
—For the month of May 2017, visits to North America by UK residents declined by 4.2 percent vs. May 2016. (For the same period, all visits abroad by UK travelers decreased 4.6 percent.)
—Visits to North America by UK residents for the latest three months (March, April and May) totaled 920,000—declined 3 percent for the same three months in 2016. (For the same period, all visits abroad by UK travelers increased 2 percent.)
—Visits to North America by UK residents year-to-date (January through May 2017) numbered 1.4 million—declined three percent for the same period a year ago. (For the same period, all visits abroad by UK travelers increased 4 percent.)
—Visits to North America for the year ending with May 2017 by UK travelers totaled 4.09 million, a change of zero percent. (For the same period, all visits abroad by UK travelers increased 6 percent.)
What Happened? One is hard pressed to find a one-size-fits-all explanation for the 17-month decline. First of all, few in the industry knew of it, as there were no NTTO data readily available for much of 2016 and into 2017. Second, the UK has been the beneficiary of the strongest of any Brand USA marketing promotions. We actually had cause to believe that Visit USA traffic was increasing, not decreasing. Third, nothing in the regular monthly ONS reports gave anyone in the travel and tourism industry cause for concern. And, while there might be some discrepancies in ONS figures and the preliminary figures of NTTO, they are not sufficient to be a cause for alarm.
What Will Happen in the Future? We don’t know. We’ll keep you posted.