Foreign tourists to US welcome boost as 2017 hits record figures

Final number of annual US tourism arrivals to US also overtakes 50m for first time

The number of foreign tourists coming to the US is rising at its fastest pace in a decade, a boost for an industry facing headwinds from President Donald Trump’s travel bans and crackdowns on illegal immigration.

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Data released by the travel department on Friday showed that total inbound traffic rose 10.8% in September, topping the 0.6% expected increase, to 5.61 million, for the first time. Inbound traffic continued to climb in October, growing at a 14.6% rate, the biggest monthly increase since February 2009.

“November and December are in the books, and 2018 seems to be at or near a record pace for travel to the US,” US tourism and trade organization Travel Leaders Group said in a statement.

For the year to date, visitation to the US is up 9.4% over 2017, and the number of annual visits from foreign tourists was 51.3 million, the highest ever since the US began tracking them in 2001.

The upward trajectory comes as Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in early November, but Republicans hold the Senate and Trump still maintains near-unanimous support from the Republican-controlled Senate.

Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on everything from Samsung smartphones to plywood, and has decried some of the world’s main export markets, including China and Mexico, as “hostile”. His moves to limit illegal immigration have faced a rocky reception abroad, especially as critics say border security could be eased if US cities don’t collaborate with federal immigration authorities.

Around the globe, competition among countries has increased. In Asia, China overtook the US this year as the top source of inbound travelers, accounting for nearly 29% of all non-Mexican tourism from overseas. In 2018, China’s inbound visitors exceeded those from Germany for the first time.

The US data includes no details on visa-free arrivals, which are common in the EU, where many destinations like Europe allow business, government and academic travelers free movement of both land and sea. By contrast, annual visa-free arrivals are not broken out for citizens of many countries in the Middle East, who are seen as security risks.

“While the factors driving the recent travel spike will likely continue to be there for some time, in any case many of the countries that were leading inbound tourism are shifting back to inbound tourism,” Travel Leaders Group said.

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