In the six weeks since President Joe Biden lifted the requirement for pre-arrival antigen testing, international travel to and from the US has shot through the roof.
New data from the World Travel and Tourism Council, collected in partnership with ForwardKeys, shows that airline bookings to the US spiked by 93% since the June 12 policy change, compared with the same period the year before. “It’s a huge sign of the pent-up demand that exists,” explains Julia Simpson, WTTC president and chief executive officer, “as well as the massive dampening effect that the testing requirement has had on travellers who have been wanting to go to the US.”
But there’s a catch: Visitor spending is taking longer to recover than visitor arrivals.
In 2019 international tourism directly and indirectly brought $191 billion to the American economy—a number that tumbled by 80% in 2020 and only recovered by about one percent in 2021, according to Simpson. (She cites the delayed border reopening, in November 2021, as a culprit for the extended decline.)
“The inbound spending figures have gone up 208% since the testing requirement was lifted alone,” she explains. “But by the end of the year we’re only expecting it to reach $124 billion.”
At that rate, says Simpson, tourism spending isn’t expected to make a full recovery until 2025.
Inbound flight bookings should recover far sooner, reaching 80% of 2019 levels by the end of August and hitting 100% as soon as 2023.
Expenditures simply have much further to go.
For months after the US border reopened in November 2021, inbound tourism was dominated by visits from family and friends, rather than higher-priced leisure trips. Business travel has also recovered at a far slower rate, creating a $21 billion shortfall in 2022 in the lodgings sector alone, and several of the highest-spending inbound travel markets have been highly limited in their ability to cross borders. (Think China and Japan, or even Russia to a lesser extent.)
In 2021 international tourists only spent $40 billion in the US, a low baseline from which 2022 figures are being measured. And because WTTC is tracking flight bookings rather than actual deplaned passengers, those 2021 figures would have included plenty of trips that didn’t generate on-the-ground profits until months later, when the trips actually occurred, often in 2022. All these factors will delay spending recovery, even as inbound bookings start to approximate their old normal.
Not all major tourism economies are seeing the same slow upward climbs. According to Simpson, “Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Greece, Turkey, Spain—they’re all powering ahead, and a lot of them have either hit or eclipsed 2019 spending figures this year.” She credits looser travel restrictions, enacted earlier on in the pandemic, as the common advantage. “People have been booking ahead and making alternate decisions based on what was possible in that moment in time,” she explains.
But that doesn’t mean that lifting the testing requirements for US entry will fully open the floodgates, either. “Airfares are a continuing challenge now,” Simpson adds. “And with fuel prices increasing, that’s going to put limits on the recovery of long-haul travel.”
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.