U.S. travelers took more than 80 million trips abroad in 2016. Pictured are travelers outside of Buckingham Palace in London. Dave Collier / Flickr
U.S. travelers had plenty of reasons to take an international trip last year.
A stronger U.S. dollar, the UK’s Brexit vote, and the growth of low-cost, long-haul carriers are only a few of the big reasons why U.S. arrivals in overseas destinations increased seven percent year-over-year in 2016 and grew nine percent for Mexico and Canada, according to data from the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office and U.S. Department of Commerce.
More than 80 million Americans went to Canada, Mexico or another overseas destination in 2016 – a record high and an 8 percent increase over 2015, the Commerce Department reported.
Many European destinations were winners in the U.S. outbound travel market last year as some 13.6 million Americans visited the continent, an 8 percent jump.
VisitBritain, the national tourism board for the UK ran marketing campaigns aimed at U.S. travelers last year to capitalize on Brexit’s impact on the pound, which made the country more affordable for Americans.
The U.S. is the UK’s most lucrative visitor market and earlier this year Visit Britain announced that 3.5 million U.S. tourists visited the country in 2016, which was 6 percent growth year-over-year. U.S. travelers also spent $4.4 billion in the UK last year, an 11 percent jump compared ecosystem.
Last month, VisitBritain also launched a mini-documentary film campaign with the BBC aimed at the U.S. market that involves four, two-minute documentaries that feature London, Manchester, Scotland and Wales. The mini-documentaries will air on BBC World News through March 2018.
Other Western European countries, such as France and Belgium, suffered terrorist attacks last year that led to overall declines in tourism to those countries. The UK has experienced them in 2017.
But in France, which saw its tourist arrivals drop 8 percent last year after attacks in Paris and Nice, the decrease in U.S. arrivals was still smaller than that of China or Japan, as Bloomberg reported.
Northern and Eastern Europe’s tourism growth, on the other hand, likely helped to offset losses in Western Europe.
Some 31.2 million U.S. travelers visited Mexico last year, up 9 percent, and U.S. tourism to Mexico made a notable gain. Many U.S. citizens cross the U.S.-Mexico border each day for work or shop, for example, and aren’t visiting the country for leisure travel. But the Commerce Department notes that 17 million of the 31.2 million U.S. arrivals to Mexico were tourism-related, a 12 percent increase.
Air travel from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico also had double-digit growth. U.S. airline-passenger arrivals to Mexico, 8.9 million, grew 12 percent from 2015 and arrivals to Canada, 4.5 million, jumped 17 percent.
U.S. arrivals to Asia and Oceania, such as Australia and New Zealand, were the largest for overseas regions with 11 and 13 percent growth, respectively.
The World Travel & Tourism Council said the Commerce Department’s data align with what it had projected for U.S. outbound tourism growth in 2016. “U.S. outbound expenditure has shown consistent growth over the past three years, after a decline in 2013,” said Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of WTTC. “The strength of the U.S. dollar is certainly one factor in this.”
But the U.S. wasn’t the only outbound travel market that had a good year, said Guevara. “For example, France’s outbound expenditure grew by 6.2 percent last year and UK outbound spending was up by eight percent, although a significant decline is forecast for this year on the back of the UK’s decision to leave the EU,” said Guevara. “On the other hand, German outbound spending had declined by 1.2 percent last year.”
Will 2017 Also be Strong For U.S. Travel Abroad?
To Guevara’s point about 2017, U.S. outbound travel might not end up being as robust this year as it was in 2016. The UK pound and Euro have both strengthened against the U.S. dollar in recent months, for example.
WTTC’s former CEO, David Scowsill, had said that U.S. travelers were a bright spot for global travel this year in an interview in March. But WTTC’s projections show that U.S. outbound travel will grow 5.4 percent in 2017 – smaller than the eight percent increase last year.
But with low-cost airlines like Norwegian Air adding flights on the U.S. east and west coasts during the past year, making transatlantic flights hundreds of dollars cheaper than other long-haul carriers in some cases, that could help entice more Americans to take overseas trips.
The Commerce Department hasn’t released any data for U.S. citizen outbound travel for 2017, but international arrivals to the U.S. were down from January through May, the last month for which data are available. Some travel industry organizations have partly blamed U.S. President Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric and policies for the decline.
It will be interesting to see if U.S. outbound travel suffers a similar slump related to the country’s political climate or the economy as travel companies wait for data from this year to come in.
U.S. Outbound Travel Growth in 2016
|Region||Number of U.S. Arrivals||Percent Growth Over 2015||Market Share of U.S. Outbound Market|
|Central America||3 million||7%||7%|
|Middle East||2.2 million||6%||3%|
|South America||2 million||8%||3%|
Source: U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office and U.S. Department of Commerce