New data show U.S. inbound travel slumping badly

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International visitation to the United States has contracted significantly this year, with the steepest declines early in the year, the U.S. Travel Association found, leading to a downward revision of previously reported inbound travel numbers. 

The declines were steepest in February (6.8%) and March (8.2%) and continued as recently as July. The revisions are in line with an international travel drop-off in visitors that U.S. Travel had earlier predicted would occur in 2017, but ts numbers had not indicated were happening.

David Huether, U.S. Travel's senior vice president for research, said in that new data had prompted a downward revision of Travel Trends Index results from earlier in the year.

"Sure enough, the international travel segment has been far weaker than what was initially shown," Huether said.

U.S. Travel said that its Travel Trends Index, prepared by the research firm Oxford Economics, included new data from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Travel and Tourism Office, as well as by IATA, air travel intelligence company OAG, and Sabre on international inbound travel to the U.S.

The Commerce Department numbers, which primarily use I-94 arrival data, indicate that international arrivals fell by 5.8% in February and 8.3% in March, to 4.5 million and 5.6 million, respectively. Total first quarter arrivals, January through March, were down by 4.2%, to 15.8 million arrivals.

The slight uptick that U.S. Travel reported in April was likely due to the travel-heavy Easter holiday, the organization now says.

"Inbound travel to the U.S. already went through one 'lost decade' after 9/11," said U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow. "It took a sustained national policy effort to return to the pre-9/11 level of travel exports, which only happened last year. If we don't want to give back all of that progress, the time to act is now."

He said that despite the ominous forecast, the Trump administration can "help right the ship" by continuing the Brand USA tourism-marketing organization and by protecting policies that enable international travel to the U.S., such as Open Skies aviation agreements and the Visa Waiver Program."

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