The latest preliminary monthly arrivals data for the first six months of 2017 by the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) presented a discouraging picture of the performance on the USA’s inbound tourism industry with few encouraging statistical notes—except for an apparent recovery in the market from Canada a strong performance by South Korea and a glimmer of hope for top producing European markets as the Euro’s modest increase in value vs. the U.S. dollar this year seems to have stanched the red ink that characterize the overall numbers: Total international arrivals to the USA dropped 3.9 percent, year-on-year, vs. 2016; and overseas arrivals declined even further, by 5.7 percent. Not since the 2008-2009 Great Recession and its wake has such a tumble in arrivals numbers been so pronounced.
To Illustrate the Impact: Were the first-half year-on-year decline for the UK alone to continue for the remainder of 2017, the 6.2 percent drop-off would—if one translated to arrivals, travel receipts and airfare passengers—result in the following:
The release of the first-half arrivals numbers for 2017 and their potential economic impact prompted an uncharacteristically blunt assessment from Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “The latest government travel data is deeply concerning not just to our industry, but to anyone who cares about the economic wellbeing of the United States,” Dow said. “Travel is our country’s number two export and supports more than 15 million American jobs.”
He added, “These numbers are an undeniable wake-up call, and correcting this troubling trend needs to become a national priority. “The travel industry will turn over every stone looking for all available policy options to better promote the U.S. as an international destination, and we stand ready to partner with the federal government to grow travel, and American jobs and exports along with it.”
Revisions Continue to Delay release of NTTO arrival data. One serious problem with the data released Nov. 29 by NTTO is that they are indeed preliminary and subject to revision. And they will be revised. In 2016, some mid-year numbers were so far off the mark (for instance, preliminary data for June 2016 arrivals from China were down 33 percent vs. June 2015) to industry observers were left incredulous.
As it developed, NTTO, which had been pressed by the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, appointed by the Secretary of Commerce and comprised of industry representatives from through the country, to come up with more timely data, in turn pushed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which collects the data and turns it over to NTTO, which has had ongoing problems in getting information in a timely fashion. Some of the data, for U.S. territories in the Pacific, is still manually tallied and collected. And at first, information collected at some kiosks proved to be incomplete in the information that passengers arriving in the U.S. filled out. In general, what NTTO received was incomplete and hard to work with.
In an effort to turn its product around more quickly—NTTO used to have its information for a specific month released within 90 to 120 days of the month in question—NTTO dropped the preparation of the explanatory news releases that accompanied the monthly reports, depriving users of the agency’s insight on the data. Yet things are still behind, because it does not have in hand the information from CBP in a timely fashion (the latest monthly release, covering June 2017, was not available until Nov. 29, almost six months after the fact).
So, all of the data above are furnished with a codicil: “Expect revisions.” There is some good news for those who follow NTTO’s work. One can expect to see the agency put out a long-term forecast for 2018 and beyond sometime this month.