No Arrivals Data Better than Bad Data as Figures Identified some non-U.S. citizens characterized as U.S. Citizens: Beleaguered by questionable numbers and delays in the release of the monthly data that tallies the number of international visitors to the United States, the U.S. Department of Commerce/International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) has announced it will suspend data releases on overseas arrivals to the United States pending resolution of underlying technical issues with a significant number of records received from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). No data will be reported by NTTO beyond the preliminary data previously released five weeks ago, on March 7th, until the records are properly identified, categorized, and counted.
“The National Travel and Tourism Office is committed to providing accurate statistics on international travelers to the United States as defined by international standards for the travel and tourism sector,” said Isabel Hill, director of the National Travel and Tourism Office. “NTTO is working with CBP and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to resolve these issues. NTTO will resume publication of these data as soon as possible.”
In conducting due diligence on records received from CBP on arrivals to the United States in 2017, NTTO identified significant and increasing anomalies affecting DHS I-94 visitor arrivals data. NTTO uses data gathered by CBP to calculate overseas arrivals to the United States, including those who are traveling for business, leisure, and education, and staying one night or more. As such, residents of the United States are not counted as visitors.
During this process, NTTO detected a meaningful and increasing number of non-U.S. citizens traveling on visas to the United States being categorized as U.S. residents. Therefore, those travelers were removed from the visitor count of overseas travelers arriving into the United States, resulting in a probable undercount for 2017.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses these data when calculating the balance of trade, as expenditures by these visitors are counted as exports for the United States. In 2016, travel and tourism accounted for 11 percent of all U.S. exports and 33 percent of all services exports. The United States realized an $83.9 billion balance of trade surplus for travel and tourism in 2016. These data are also used by destinations and private-sector companies in expanding exports, and by U.S. government agencies in the development of policy.
Prior to the announcement of the suspension in the release of the data, NTTO had been struggling to reduce the lag time between its receipt of data from CBP and its monthly releases. Prior to the announcement, the most recent data were about six months behind real time. In trying to expedite the release of data, NTTO had stopped the issuance of accompanying releases that summarized the monthly numbers—which were sometimes wildly at variance with the final numbers.
It was unclear from this action by NTTO when the release of data might resume. It used to be that NTTO used to time the release of its annual spring long-range forecast to coincide with IPW. But that did not take place last year, nor will it