U.S. records decline in big-spending foreign tourists
Over the past two years, Spain’s national tourism agency has targeted big-spending cosmopolitan travelers from Europe and the U.S. and promoted foodie vacations in parts of Spain not typically visited by international travelers.
The work has paid off, with Spain recently surpassing the U.S. to become the second most visited country in the world by national tourism, behind only France.
U.S. travel industry leaders, miffed that Spain and a handful of other countries have been outperforming the U.S. in attracting high-spending national tourism, say they are ready to launch a new campaign to help the country retake its spot among the world’s top tourism destinations.
Part of that effort will involve borrowing from Spain’s playbook by promoting Instagrammable scenery and unique foodie favorite spots in the U.S.
Although domestic travel in the U.S. is thriving, travel industry leaders worry about losing out on the country’s share of overseas visitors — so-called long-haul travelers from places like China and Europe — because they spend an average of about $4,200 per visit, much more than the domestic traveler who spends only about $400 per trip.
Spain has boosted its share of international visitors by targeting middle-class and high-income travelers in the U.S. and Europe and by promoting the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet and new experiences such as Flamenco dancing, among other messages, said Javier Rodriquez Manas, director of Spain’s tourism office in Los Angeles.
In addition, he said Spain’s tourism agency invites social media influencers to the country to visit and promote their experiences in Spain. The effort has included posting social media images of bowls of gazpacho, plates of tapas and centuries-old castles.
“We also get the message out on the internet, on Facebook and Twitter,” he said. “We are always working with these platforms of promotion. They really work good for us.” But it won’t be easy for the U.S. to win back foreign tourists who are increasingly heading to alternative vacation spots in Europe and Asia.
The U.S. has seen its share of global international travel drop from 13.7% in 2015 to 11.7% in 2018, with a forecast by the U.S. Travel Association suggesting that the rate could drop to 10.9% by 2022.
That drop has been blamed on several factors, including a strong U.S. currency, which makes spending in the U.S. by foreign tourists more expensive. In addition, trade tensions with China have been blamed for a drop in visits from Chinese tourists who have in the past few years been spending heavily on things such as souvenirs on Hollywood Boulevard and name-brand clothes at outlet malls in Los Angeles.
The efforts to attract foreign visitors also took a blow in 2018 when the Trump administration decided to divert funding away from a coordinated marketing campaign to promote the U.S. to international travelers, dubbed Brand USA. Trump instead funneled the money to help pay for improved border protection.
On top of that, travel industry experts say the president has sent a less-than-welcoming message to would-be foreign visitors by launching a travel ban on mostly Muslim countries and promoting the construction of a wall along the country’s southern border. The Trump administration may be ready to announce as early as Monday an expansion of that travel ban to include seven new countries, according to Politico.