Thursday, May 29, 2008

America On Sale: International Visitors Still Coming

We’re trying to understand the news from the U.S. Dept of Commerce that international visitors to the U.S. increased 13 percent in January and February 2008 over the previous year. Some specific numbers are:

  • UK up 11%
  • Russia up 20%
  • Canada up 24%
  • Germany up 24%
  • France up 22%
  • Italy up 17%
  • Netherlands up 17%
  • Spain up 22%
  • South Korea up 9%
  • China up 22%
  • India up 13%
  • Australia up 8%
  • Brazil up 22%
  • (a lot more numbers are available on the Commerce website)

Why? The U.S. government continues to make obtaining a visa harder and harder. The politicos spend endless hours thumping their chests about border fences and immigration. The TSA makes every aspect of the air travel experience more dreadful every day.

Yes, America is obviously “on sale,” with the weak dollar making everyone else’s money worth more. We could understand it if the increases were just from Europeans: snow in Europe was so bad last winter that these could all be skiers coming to the U.S. for some decent snow. Yet for other visitors, why January and February anyway? Traditionally, international tourism to the U.S. has peaked in summer and fall, so what’s in store for this summer season? Maybe gasoline sticker-shock will change that picture.

Or is it just that money always wins? “We want it all and we want it now and we want it cheap.” The rest of the world is becoming more wealthy, and not just because of the dollar’s decline. Asians, Eastern Europeans, South Americans are wanting the luxuries that increased personal wealth brings – cars, toys, homes, travel. Combined with America On Sale... If that is the case, then America has won the world. Our values (money trumps everything else) are now universal.

This is a fabulous country to visit, and international tourists bring many more things to the U.S. than just their money. They enrich our cultural understanding of the rest of the world, and might even make some Americans less protectionist and isolationist. We’re happily surprised, but nonetheless, still surprised.