More than 15 years after 9/11, international travel to the United States has finally returned to the level it had reached before the World Trade Center attacks, according to an analysis of data from the Department of Commerce conducted by the U.S. Travel Association. Put in the language of travel research, international travel's share of "total U.S. exports" (the amount of money spent in the U.S. by visitors who then return home) reached 11.2 percent in 2016, the sector's highest share since 2000, just before fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks caused U.S. market share to plummet vs. other global destinations.
U.S. travel exports edged up by 0.4 percent in 2016 to a record $247 billion. By comparison, overall U.S. exports declined by 2.3 percent last year. International travel also generated an $88 billion trade surplus for the U.S. in 2016, without which the overall deficit would have been 18 percent larger.
"The U.S. lost a significant amount of ground in the international travel marketplace in the years after 9/11, which our industry has come to call 'the Lost Decade,'" said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow. "But a decade and a half of sound policymaking from administrations and Congresses controlled by both political parties has enabled America to rebound. The success of the Visa Waiver Program, the creation of the Brand USA marketing organization and our Open Skies aviation agreements with other countries are the policies that come to mind as the foremost contributors to this comeback.
"International visitors create jobs in every state and every congressional district," Dow added. "Our lawmakers can and must capitalize on this economic momentum by focusing on policies that increase secure, legitimate international travel and provide an efficient entry experience."
The U.S. is the single largest destination for global long-haul travel, and the second-largest destination for overall global travel. International travel spending directly supported upward of 1.1 million American jobs in 2015, according to U.S. Travel. A large part of this spending comes from overseas visitors -- travelers from beyond Canada and Mexico -- who spend an average of $4,300 per U.S. trip.
More data from U.S. Travel on international travel to the U.S. can be found here