“By the Numbers” is a periodic look at data on the travel economy from sources outside of the U.S. Travel Association, examining how the numbers align with U.S. Travel’s own research and analysis. This iteration looks at the latest release of data from the World Travel and Tourism Council on the economic losses to the U.S. economy in 2020 due to the collapse of international inbound travel.
On September 2, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) released estimates of the economic impact of the collapse of international travel to the U.S. in 2020, which includes daily economic losses, total economic losses for the year, and the number of travel and tourism-supported jobs lost.
Overall, the WTTC estimates that the U.S. economy will lose $155 billion in 2020 due to the falloff in international inbound travel—a staggering $425 million per day. International visitor spending in the U.S. for the year could potentially drop 79%.
The WTTC estimates that nearly 12.1 million jobs in the U.S. supported by travel and tourism are at risk of being lost in a “worst case” scenario mapped out by WTTC economic modelling.
How these figures align with U.S. Travel’s own estimates
In a forecast released in June, U.S. Travel estimated that the U.S. economy will lose $116 billion in 2020 due to decreased international inbound travel, a decline of 75% compared to 2019. This is close to WTTC’s latest projected decline of 79%, despite the fact that the forecasts were prepared two months apart.
A more significant difference between U.S. Travel’s and the WTTC’s estimates is the dollar amount of the decline ($155 billion for WTTC versus $116 billion for U.S Travel). This is simply due to the fact that the two organizations adopt a slightly different definition of travel spending. Although both receive their data for historic spending directly from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the WTTC includes passenger fares in their estimates while U.S. Travel omits passenger fares in order to align with domestic travel spending estimations. As a result, the WTTC’s 2019 international visitor spending figure of $195 billion is larger than U.S. Travel’s 2019 international spending figure of $155 billion.
Regarding the jobs figure, the WTTC estimates that 12.1 million travel and tourism-supported jobs could be lost this year. U.S. Travel’s latest estimates from Tourism Economics is 8 million. The difference can be explained, in part, by the fact that the WTTC is explicitly listing their estimate as a “worst case scenario” while U.S. Travel’s estimate is a baseline. The difference can also partly be explained by different definitions of travel-supported jobs; the WTTC estimates that 16.8 million jobs in the U.S. were supported by travel and tourism in 2019, while U.S. Travel estimates 15.8 million.