“The Unsung Hero”
by Lakshman Ratnapala, BATW International Advisor
Travel is the unsung hero of today’s America, being one of the few bright spots in the fledgling economic recovery.
Last year, 2011, was one for the record books in the U.S. travel industry, which welcomed 62 million international visitors and generated $152.4 billion in exports, eclipsing the exports of both machinery and computer products as well as agriculture.
This upward trend in travel is being pushed further with the announcement of a first-ever national strategy to boost travel to the U.S. and set goals for the volume of visitors to the country. The strategy aims to make the U.S. the world’s top travel destination, in an effort to spur job creation. The initiatives include the appointment of a Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness to develop new policies to increase U.S. market share worldwide. Other actions include new rules for visa processing in China and Brazil, expand the Global Entry Program to make it permanent, and the admission of more countries to the Visa Waiver Program, the largest source of inbound travel to the U.S. in 2011 — more than 18 million visitors, nearly two-thirds of all overseas visitors. While here, they spent $69 billion, supported 525,000 American jobs and generated $13 billion in payroll and $11 billion in government tax revenues. The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes such as China, Brazil and India is projected to grow by 135 %, 274 % and 50 % respectively by 2016.
The uptick in international and national travel is also reflected in our own city of San Francisco, which welcomed 16.35 million visitors in 2011. They generated $526 million in taxes for the city and supported 71,500 jobs with an annual payroll of over $2 billion. On average there were nearly 130,000 visitors in San Francisco each day, last year. Most stayed in other Bay Area locations, but spent their money mostly in the city. Visitors spent over $23 million per day in San Francisco, which equates to $10,411 visitor spending per San Franciscan.
Looking ahead to trends next year, 2012, the U.S. Tour Operators Association forecasts that experiential travel, or the E Factor, will be a priority for travelers, with Baby Boomers (age 46 to 65 years) being the largest group seeking E Factor vacations. Italy was named the destination offering the most experiential travel options, with France closely behind. Thus, tour operators will expand their E Factor tour portfolios featuring culinary tours, culture, nature, adventure, photography and job tours. The USTOA said the most popular emerging destinations in 2012 will be Vietnam, India, Ecuador and China.