The increasing growth and strength of China during the past decade as both a destination that attracts tourists and as a source market that sends more of its people traveling internationally than any other country comprises is just one of the challenges to those who want to measure the true worth of a country’s share of the international travel market. After all, the majority of outbound travel from China goes to regional destinations, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, the Philippines and India—travel that is essentially short-haul.
Why the Measure is still so important: A basic tenet of the tour and travel industry’s campaign in the 00s to establish a national tourism marketing office lay in the point, stressed over and over again, that the U.S. was not competitive enough and was losing its share of the international travel market. The hope was that, with the passage into law of the 2010 Tourism Promotion Act and the creation of Brand USA (officially, the Corporation for Travel Promotion), the U.S. would be better able fight to recoup its share of the world market, which was a high as 9.93 percent in 1992.
A 20-Year Window: So, what happened to the USA’s share in the past 20 years, including the five-plus years that Brand USA has had to mount a marketing program abroad? From 1998 to 2017, the U.S. share has fallen just over 23 percent, or 1.78 percentage points. At first blush, the 1.78 percentage points seem small. But realize that one per cent of the global total for 2017 amounts to 22.8 million.
While partial numbers are available for 2017, the latest full-year data for outbound travel captured by the Top 10 destinations for international arrivals are for 2016. They are as follows.
A Note on the Top Ten: The top 10 countries in the year 1995 accounted for 54.0 percent of arrivals in 1995 but a record low 39.4 percent in 2015. The top ten countries in 1995 had lost a combined 14.6 percentage points over the years. Only China and Germany have gained share during the period, and Germany’s growth is recent following a major decline in share. The USA’s 21 percent loss in share during this period is only sixth worst among the 8 “losers.” That is, five of the original 1995 top ten countries would love to have the USA’s 21 percent loss since their loss was larger.
More on why it is Dicey to Rely on Share as a Key Metric: From our review of the process that comprises the production of the figures in the two tables above, as well as our conversations and e-mail exchanges with some experts in the field—in particular some of the analysts at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO)—INBOUND suggests that those who use market share as a key metric in making a case for or against promoting to, or competing in or against a particular international market, should be aware of some caveats germane to the process:
— Many of the factors influencing travel to the USA are beyond the industry’s control, such as the cost of airline fuel; currency exchange rates; natural disasters; and political upheaval.
—Most of the top destinations are losing share due to the growth of outbound travel from Asia and intra-regional Asia visitation, which is, or used to be as high a share of intra-regional cross-visitation in any global region (That is, is Germany’s slightly better performance recently a result of more French, Spaniards, and Italians going to Germany?)
—Countries do not count inbound volume the same way, using these methodology or definitions: UNWTO recommends countries don’t count students or persons visiting students, but NTTO does; this means more than a million students in school year 2016/17. Assume they go home and come back a few times. Assume parents visit once or twice a year. Some countries count visitation from foreign nationals living abroad. NTTO doesn’t.
—Methodology changes. The United States began to include “one-night only auto arrivals” in 2014, which boosted volume 4-5 percent in that year versus 2013. And one can expect India’s share of global to double when they begin to count visiting foreign nationals, which they say they are poised to do;
—USA really only competes for only a long-haul subset of total outbound travel from any and all markets. Conversely other countries don’t compete with short-haul to the USA from Canada and Mexico; to a great extent they don’t compete with Canada snowbirds—many of whom have semi-permanent RV homes at RV resorts—in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California…who have semi-permanent RVs at RV resorts.
—Again, inbound can and does combine all travel, the equivalent to which we call travel between the USA and Canada/Mexico, including short, cross-border auto travel.
—When one removes what some consider the non-marketable travel segments (business, VFR, medical, foreign students), it’s a subset of a subset. A more useful share analysis would be country specific and require data not currently publicly available to the travel industry.