Overview of U.S. International Travel

Overview of U.S. International Travel

U.S. international passenger travel experienced a notable expansion from 1990 to 2000 (table 1 and box 1). In total, 366 million inbound and outbound trips were made between the United States and other countries in 2000, a 16 percent increase from 315 million trips in 19903. Of trips made in 2000, the majority of U.S. international travel (approximately 86 percent) was with Canada and Mexico, and most of this was same-day travel (figure 1). While North American travel dominates U.S. international travel overall, it grew at a slower annual rate than U.S. travel with overseas countries in the 1990s. Between 1990 and 2000, trips generated in North America rose 10 percent, in contrast to a 70 percent increase for trips between the United States and overseas countries.

The number of U.S. residents traveling to overseas destinations is slightly greater than the number of overseas visitors coming to the United States. In 2000, 27 million U.S. residents traveled to overseas destinations, while 26 million overseas residents4 came to the United States. Overall, inbound travel to the United States, including both overseas and North American, increased more slowly than outbound U.S. travel. Still, the United States, with 51 million foreign resident visits, surpassed Spain to become the second-most visited country worldwide. In comparison, France accounted for the most international overnight visits, with 76 million in 2000 (USDOC ITA 2001d). Europe still remains the top origin and destination for U.S. inbound and outbound overseas travel, followed by Asia, the Caribbean, and South America (figure 2). However, U.S. travel grew fastest with Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and South America, during the last decade (table 1). Regions such as Africa, Central America, and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) also experienced notable increases in travel with the United States.

Although U.S. international travel increased between 1990 and 2000, travel began to slow in early 2001 and more significant declines occurred following September 11, 2001. Overnight trips between the United States and overseas countries from January through August 2001 were slightly lower than comparable numbers for 2000. The September and October drops in overseas overnight travel were more drastic, falling by 32 and 34 percent, respectively, from 2000 levels.

Despite these recent declines, international passenger travel generates much revenue for transportation carriers, hotels, restaurants, and other travel-related businesses. The United States had a 7 percent share of all international overnight visitors in 2000 and a 17 percent share of worldwide international overnight visitor receipts (USDOC ITA 2001c). Travel expenditures by international visitors in the United States amounted to $82 billion in 2000, nearly $18 billion more than U.S. residents spent on international trips5 (table 3). Passenger fares paid by international travelers to U.S. transportation providers brought in another $21 billion, but this was $3 billion less than what U.S. residents paid to transportation service providers in other countries.6 Although U.S. residents travel most frequently to Canada and Mexico, they spent the most in terms of their travel costs and passenger fares for visits to the United Kingdom (table 3 and figure 3). In 2000, residents of Japan and the United Kingdom spent more than other international travelers to the United States, followed by Canada and Mexico.

Japanese visitors' expenditures are largely responsible for the U.S. travel and passenger fare expenditures surplus. In 2000, the Japanese spent over $10 billion more in the United States on travel and passenger fares than did U.S. residents traveling in Japan. Meanwhile, the United States ran a travel and passenger fare deficit of approximately $1.6 billion with Mexico in 2000. U.S. residents spend much greater sums of money on their trips to Mexico than Mexicans do in the United States, as expenditures on passenger fares alone show a relatively small balance (USDOC BEA 2001, tables 1 and 10).


3 Total trips include overnight trips (or those of a duration of one night or more) and same-day trips (which include an arrival and departure on the same day). The U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration provides overnight data based on immigration documents required by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Same-day data are from Canadian and Mexican statistical agencies based on immigration documents and travel surveys.

4 This number includes Canada and Mexico and is based on overnight visits only.

5Travel expenditures include goods and services (e.g., food, lodging, recreation, gifts, entertainment, and local transportation) purchased when visiting a foreign country. A traveler is a person who visits a country for less than one year, except diplomats and military and civilian government personnel. Educational and medical expenditures are not included. Expenditures on same-day trips by U.S., Canadian, and Mexican residents are included.

6International passenger fares are fares paid by residents of one country to airline and vessel operators in another country on trips to or from the two countries involved.