by Beth J. Harpaz, AP Travel Editor | August 17, 2017
International arrivals to the U.S. increased by 2 percent in January 2017 compared with January 2016, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced Wednesday. The 5.6 million international visitors who arrived this past January represented the first monthly increase in inbound international visits to the U.S. since June 2016, the agency said in a release. The statistics could definitively show an important reversal of the downward trend observed in late 2016.
The top five inbound markets for January 2017 were Mexico, Canada, China, Japan and the United Kingdom, though visits from Japan and the U.K. were down compared to January 2016. Visitors from China showed the biggest jump, a 17 percent increase, and visitors from South Korea, the sixth largest inbound market, were up 12 percent compared to January 2016. Miami, Los Angeles and New York's John F. Kennedy international airports accounted for nearly 40 percent of all overseas arrivals.
Just over 16 percent of overseas travelers to the U.S. came here on business, while the remainder were leisure travelers.
The Department of Commerce also issued its final report on the 2016 calendar year last week, counting a total of 75.6 million international visitors to the U.S. last year. That 2016 figure represented a decrease of 2 percent compared to the 77.5 million non-resident international travelers who arrived in 2015. Those visitors collectively spent $244.7 billion here in 2016, a 1 percent decrease in spending over 2015. That drop last year in international tourism has mostly been blamed on the strong U.S. dollar, which makes it more expensive for foreigners to vacation here.
Despite the decreases in 2016, travel and tourism was the largest services export for the United States last year, comprising 33 percent of services exports and 11 percent of exports overall.
The lower 2016 numbers represented the first decline in inbound visitors to the U.S. since 2009, but the January 2017 data released Wednesday suggest that the trend might be reversing. Some in the travel industry worried earlier this year that tourism would decline in response to Trump administration policies and anti-foreigner sentiment. But preliminary indicators so far this year suggest that inbound travel has been relatively robust.