The U.S. travel and tourism industry is looking at a record-setting year, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced Friday, with both spending and visitor numbers well above last year's figures.
"In May, international visitors spent nearly $14 billion in travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the U.S.," Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said at the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board Meeting in Dearborn, Mich. "That's $1 billion (8 percent) more than May of last year, and it marks 29 straight months of growth. This also means that we are on pace for a record-setting year with international visitors having spent over $68 billion so far, up 12 percent compared to last year."
Unlike every other developed country, the U.S. does not have any mandatory requirement for vacation days, but honors 10 public holidays.
The number of actual visitors to the U.S. also increased, with Eastern European visitors up 13 percent, African visitors up 20 percent and Asian visitors jumping 27 percent.
Americans, meanwhile, spent roughly $50 billion on travel and tourism abroad during the first five months of the 2012, the agency said, creating an $18.4 billion trade surplus.
Blank called tourism a "high-growth bright spot in our economy," saying "it's clearer than ever that this industry is one of our key national strengths."
"We're counting on the travel and tourism industry to play a key role in helping increase economic growth and job creation," Blank added.
During the board meeting, members discussed implementation of the recently released National Travel and Tourism Strategy, a blueprint for the federal government to welcome 100 million international visitors each year by the end of 2021. It is estimated that the visitors would spend some $250 billion per year and thus support more jobs and spur economic growth in communities across the country.
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Though the sheer number of visitors to the United States rose over the last decade, the nation's slice of the global pie shrunk some 15.5 percent from 2000 to 2011. The cherry on top: Foreign markets were outspending the United States, which always saw itself as a nation that didn't need to invite people in.
To remedy this, Congress approved the United States' first-ever national marketing campaign under the Travel Promotion Act of 2010. Brand USA, the group in charge of enticing international travelers to the U.S., hopes to raise $150 million this year through private funding and $14 traveler fees collected from the 36 countries whose citizens don't need a visa to enter the U.S. The organization launched its inaugural campaign on May 1 in Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom with the first wave of print, television and billboard advertisements bearing the message "Discover this land, like never before."