Travel and tourism in the US is on pace for a year-over-year growth of 35.6 percent in 2021, beating the recovery of the overall global tourism sector this year. Next year, US travel and tourism is expected to fare even better, growing by another 28.4 percent, exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
According to the research from Oxford Economics, most of the rise in 2021 has been due to the domestic travel sector, with spending projected to finish the year 40.4 percent ($261 billion) higher than 2020, and adding on a further year-over-year rise of 22.9 percent in 2022.
By contrast, international spending by travelers in the US has been anemic due to prolonged travel restrictions throughout the year, with a predicted growth of only 1.9 percent in 2021.
However the changes to travel restrictions at US borders enacted at the beginning of November have created a surge in inbound international.
On Nov. 8, the first day of the new border policy, Customs and Border Protection reported 206,990 international travelers arrived at US airports, an increase of nearly 40,000 inbound travelers than the agency saw on a typical day in 2020. But that’s still far below a typical day in 2019, when on average over 350,000 air passengers and crew would fly into the United States.
Nevertheless, the rise in passenger numbers is predicted to produce a year-over-year boost of almost 228 percent in 2022. That translates into an increase of $98 billion in spend over the previous year from the international travel sector, bringing the travel industry total contribution to the US economy to nearly $2 trillion.
By comparison, in 2019, the US travel and tourism industry represented just under $1.9 trillion, or 8.6 percent of US GDP. In 2020, when the pandemic brought international travel to an almost complete standstill, the contribution to the sector dropped 41 percent to just $1.1 trillion, or 5.3 percent of the U.S. economy.
“Our research shows that while the global travel and tourism sector is slowly beginning to recover, the US is recovering faster than many other regions,” said Julia Simpson, WTTC president and CEO.
“The US opening its borders and easing restrictions to major source markets such as the UK and the EU will provide a massive boost to economies on both sides of the Atlantic,” Simpson added. “However, the long-term recovery of the sector in the US and around the world depends on the US border remaining open to international visitors and making travel easier.”
While growth in the overall travel and tourism sector in the US is surpassing global recovery, much of 2021’s rise is down to the domestic leisure traveler. A just released study by the US Travel and Tourism Association confirms the WTTC conclusion that domestic leisure travel will exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
However that study reveals that business travel recovery in the US is likely to remain muted and is not expected to fully recover until 2024. This also coincides with an earlier WTTC study that finds US business travel lagging behind other regions, with a predicted rise of only 14 percent projected for 2021.
And despite the optimism in the wake of the US border reopening, US Travel and Tourism finds international travel is unlikely to recover fully before 2024 or 2025.
“While we see much reason for optimism on the horizon, our forecast reveals that travel’s recovery is uneven with much work ahead to ensure all segments reach pre-pandemic levels,” said US Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow.
Faulting a lack of clear and consistent science-based guidance from federal health authorities, Dow said, “We believe that the US can implement smart, effective policies that bring back international visitors more quickly and spur business and professional travel to accelerate an economic and jobs rebound.”