Why fewer Americans visited abroad in 2018

A look at U.S. visitors’ arrival rates for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

U.S. travelers, who account for 14 percent of outbound travel among developed nations, posted an overall downward trend in arrivals for the year-ago period in most countries, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based on data for the 27 OECD countries for the years 2017 and 2018.

The sharpest decline was in Asia: Low-income countries in the region saw visitor arrivals fall 2 percent, while wealthy countries saw a 2 percent increase. Tourist arrivals in Europe, the third-most popular destination for U.S. tourists after Oceania and South America, gained 3 percent.

Data for the United States in 2018 show an overall year-over-year drop in visitor arrivals for the 27 OECD countries, with the drop sharpest in Asia. The index for the largest OECD group—Countries of the European Union, or EU— rose 1 percentage point; the OECD as a whole is up 3 percentage points. The index for the 13 Asian OECD members fell 2 percentage points.

North America and Oceania also posted declines. Mexico remained flat; Canada showed an increase of 1 percentage point.

In the United States, overall arrivals fell 5 percent in 2018, resulting in a 1 percentage point drop in the OECD (European Union plus non-EU countries), with a 3 percentage point decrease in the OECD as a whole. According to Pew’s database, U.S. arrivals reached an all-time high of 44.7 million in 2014. Visitor arrivals have since fallen 8 percent in the ensuing two years, as shown in the accompanying chart.

Only 1 in 8 OECD visitors to the United States was foreign-born, reflecting the strong U.S. economy, a large immigrant population and visa access to the United States. The drop in overall arrivals is especially evident in parts of the Northeast and Midwest, home to many Americans of low or low-middle incomes.

The OECD created its “Arrival Index” to help its members measure how many people they welcome to their countries of residence. The OECD’s “International Migration Outlook 2018” states that economic migrants, legal migration and temporary resident permits account for the vast majority of international visitors to OECD countries.

For the years 2017 and 2018, the top five destinations for U.S. tourists were:

Oceania: Hawaii

South America: Brazil, Argentina, Chile

Europe: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom

Asia: Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand

South America: Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela

The World Bank uses its “World Development Indicators” to release annual statistics on levels of international tourism—including the number of international tourists visiting countries and their destination countries. The most recent World Bank data show that, in 2017, tourists to countries worldwide spent $1.9 trillion, or 1.6 percent of the global economy. Tourism had grown 5 percent in 2016, the sixth consecutive year of growth, and continued at that pace in 2017.

Follow Adriana Reynaldo on Twitter: @ReynaldoAdriana

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