U.S. To Welcome Record Number of International Visitors in 2007
USINFO Special Correspondent
International travel to the United States will break records in 2007, marking a complete post-9/11 tourism recovery, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez predicts.
Travel to the United States following September 11, 2001, dropped 17 percent from a record high of 51.2 million visitors in 2000. But the country hosted 51.1 million international visitors in 2006, which constituted a four percent increase over the number in 2005. Gutierrez said he expects the trend to continue, and anticipates a 21 percent increase in the number of travelers to the United States over the next five years.
“International travel to the United States continues to show growth over growth as it reaches near record highs in the number of international visitors to our country," Gutierrez said in a March 2 Commerce Department press release.
While the number of visitors from countries that are enrolled in the United States’ Visa Waiver Program increased in 2006, Gutierrez said a significant portion of last year’s increase can be attributed to visitors from countries whose citizens must still obtain visas to enter the United States. According to a Commerce Department fact sheet, travelers to the United States from both China and India increased 18 percent, and travelers from the Middle East increased five percent.
As part of its commitment to welcome travelers, the U.S. Department of State has been streamlining the visa application process, applied new technology, and added 570 consular positions worldwide in order to shorten the time applicants must wait for visas to visit the United States. (See related article.)
Canadian travelers currently make up the largest percentage of international visitors to the United States, and the number of people visiting from Canada increased by eight percent between 2005 and 2006 to reach 16 million. Mexicans make up the second largest group of international visitors, and a six percent increase translated into 13.4 million Mexican visitors in 2006.
Despite the influx of North American travelers, Gutierrez said he believes that future growth in U. S. tourism will come primarily from overseas visitors. The Commerce Department predicts the number of visitors from China will increase by 60 percent, while those coming from both India and Brazil will increase by 28 percent, over the next five years. South Korean and Japanese travelers are also expected to pay more visits to the United States, along with Western Europeans from the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy.
International travel is one of the United States’ largest exports, exceeding agricultural goods and motor vehicles. The Commerce Department counts toward U.S. exports purchases of services and goods by international travelers, including expenditures on food, lodging, recreation and gifts while in the country. Travel receipts for 2006 broke records at $107.4 billion, up five percent from 2005.