International Travel’s Bumpy Path of Return
August 31, 2022 By Aaron Szyf, Economist , U.S. Travel Association
International inbound travel is crucial for the U.S. economy. It generated $239 billion in travel exports in 2019 and, after taking into account U.S. spending abroad, a trade surplus of $53 billion. After many months of near-stagnation from many of our key markets, inbound travel is finally on a solid, yet bumpy, path of return.
Inbound travel’s pace of return picked up this summer and reached a pre-pandemic high of ‘only’ 35% below 2019 levels in July 2022.
What does this mean: This is a significant improvement from -41% in May and declines of more than 50% earlier in the year.
Yes, but despite the general improvement since the full reopening of our borders in November 2021, the recovery has been uneven and a full recovery remains many months away.
- According to the latest U.S. Travel forecast, inbound travel is expected to slow down in the fall, and recovery to pre-pandemic levels may take until 2025.
What’s more: There are a number of uncertainties as we head into the fall.
Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture of international inbound travel. For this purpose, we are defining “reopening” as the November 2021 cessation of the months-long U.S. travel ban on foreign residents coming from 33 countries, including Brazil, China, India, Iran, Ireland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Europe’s 26-nation Schengen Zone.
- Prior to the “reopening”: Throughout most of the pandemic, while many of our top markets were subject to the U.S. travel ban, their ranks were replaced by Latin American countries, who, with the exception of Brazil, were not subject to major restrictions. Visitations from countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and air arrivals from Mexico even surpassed pre-pandemic levels for many months in 2021, while those from many other key markets were nearly stagnant.
- Following the “reopening”: Latin America’s dominance changed after the reopening when European markets returned at a relatively fast pace, while many Asian markets started a slower path of recovery. Visitations from Latin American markets that performed well during the pandemic actually slowed down, while those from Brazil and most other inbound markets outside of Latin America increased.
- The latest: The past few months brought a continuing recovery from Europe, which was ‘only’ 22% below 2019 levels as of July 2022, the same as Latin America. Asia also continued to recover, thanks to an easing of restrictions in most markets, but remained at -66% in July, largely due to stagnation from China and a very slow return from Japan.
Who’s left: Inbound travel from Asia has been the slowest to return. In fact, travel from Japan, our second largest overseas inbound market in 2019, remained 79% below pre-pandemic levels in July. It is also our only “top 10” market other than China which has not yet returned to its top 10 ranking.
While Japanese citizens have been permitted to travel abroad again, they are still required to undertake pre-departure testing upon return. This will finally change on September 7 and vaccinated Japanese travelers will be able to return hassle-free. This will hopefully help speed up the recovery from this vital market.
That leaves China far behind––and as our last ‘top 10 market’ to recover.
Go Deeper: U.S. Travel is releasing new “international market profile decks” that analyze inbound travel’s overall recovery, as well as that of key regions including Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America & Caribbean and Canada/Mexico.
- Access those decks to see how our different regional inbound markets performed throughout the pandemic and through July 2022. Member login is required.
In This The Itinerary
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