U.S. travel and tourism businesses learned a lesson in 1998: Don't
take the popularity of the U.S. as a destination for granted, even
from countries that have been traditional strongholds for inbound
The number of overseas visitors to the U.S. fell 2.1% in 1998,
the first decline since 1994, when publicized cases of crime
against foreign tourists in Florida contributed to a 1.1% drop.
Canada, the U.S.'
biggest source of tourists, performed worse; Canadian travelers to
the U.S. fell by about 11%. That is twice as much as the U.S.
Commerce Department had predicted and the largest drop since
Economic crises in Asia and Brazil had major impacts, as did the
exchange rate in Canada. But it would be a mistake to place all of
the blame on economic factors, said Helen Marano, director of
tourism development for tourism industries.
"We're losing as a country of choice to some degree as well,"
Canada is one example. The exchange rate punished Canadian
travelers to the U.S. (and simultaneously rewarded U.S. travelers
to Canada). But Canada also had a "stay home and visit your own
country" campaign, and Cuba, the Caribbean and countries in Europe
made pushes for Canadian travelers, Marano said.
Similarly, Australian residents responded strongly to campaigns
encouraging them to travel in the Pacific region, contributing to
an 8% downturn in travel to the U.S.
"The responsibility within the industry would be to continue to
highlight new products for our more mature and stabilized markets
... to make sure we don't lose them to people who have sexier
offerings," Marano added. "We still have to stay fresh, to not
assume that people will come just because we're here."
That means tourism officials need to show potential travelers a
new product or a new twist on an old destination, she said. For
example, Atlanta and Philadelphia developed cultural heritage
packages, and Philadelphia touted the shopping angle with its King
of Prussia mall.
Here's a quick look at how the U.S. fared in other top markets
Arrivals from Asia were down 13% overall, with South Korea
Arrivals from Japan, the top overseas market, fell 9% amid
recession and the country's midyear campaign encouraging people to
travel within the region.
Brazil, whose arrivals fell 3.3%, won't overtake France as the
third-biggest overseas market, as had been predicted before its
economic troubles began. But South America still rose 4.5% as a
whole, and Central America jumped 23.6%. n