Changing flows from Canada, Mexico and China


The US Travel Association says that in 2016 37.6 million tourists came from overseas markets and 38.3 million were from Canada and Mexico. After seven years of growth, Mexican travel numbers to the US fell in 2017. After several declining years for Canadian tourists, numbers increased in 2017.

The Association projects static or falling tourism numbers in 2018, with a share of worldwide tourism of 12% in 2017, falling to 11.7% this year. This comes after a drop, over President Trump’s first year in office, from 12.9%. Though the numbers and differentials look small in percentages, they are large in terms of dollars not spent in the US by foreign tourists.

President Trump’s public rhetoric and his administration’s new policies, rules and regulations regarding travel now suggest that the US is perhaps a less welcoming nation for foreigners.

Escalating tensions with China

Chinese tourists have been consistently ranked as the top spenders among international visitors to the US.  However, with rapidly escalating trade tensions between the world's two largest economies and alleged security concerns, authorities in China are claiming that Chinese tourists are now ‘unwilling' to visit America. The Chinese embassy has also issued a travel advisory for the US, warning tourists of risks of theft, robbery, gun violence, plus highlighting high medical costs.

This has had the effect of reducing tourism bookings and revenue from China. Given the political tension between the two countries looks set to continue for some time, it is likely that there will be fewer Chinese tourist numbers in the months (or even years) to come.

As China is now one of the biggest country suppliers of medical tourists, US inbound medical tourism is suffering. Presidential efforts to curb birth tourism have an added effect, as most birth tourists are also from China. Data from the US Travel Association does not show how many of the 3-4 million Chinese travellers to the US were medical tourists.

The USA had 77 million international visitors in 2017 says the National Travel and Tourism Office, a small increase of 0.7% on 2016.

The most noticeable increase of foreign source markets was South Korea (+ 17.8%). Brazil (+ 11%) Argentina (+10%), Ireland (+9%) and Canada (+4.8%). Only Canada is a source of medical tourists.

US Travel’s new ‘Made in America’ report highlights how essential it is to promote tourism. The report uses case studies and economic data to educate policymakers and the public about the critical need for sustained efforts to promote their jurisdictions as travel destinations.

IMTJ estimates that there are 0.5m medical tourists to the US per annum. For an in-depth analysis of 2018 medical tourism to the US, visit the IMTJ Country Report.



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