U.S. not profiting as travel increases

WASHINGTON -- The 2000s were a "lost decade" for tourism as declines in foreign visitors to the United States cost 440,000 jobs and $509 billion in lost spending, according to a report issued Monday by the U.S. Travel Association.

The report echoed earlier travel industry warnings that the United States following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks developed a reputation for being unfriendly to overseas visitors. Delays and hassles at border posts and airports, and the lack of aggressive U.S. marketing overseas, have contributed to that perception, officials have said.

As a result, the United States "missed out on a global boom of historic proportions," said the analysis prepared by Oxford Economics for the travel industry association. More people traveled in the decade, but many went to places other than America.

The number of international trips grew from 682 million in 2000 to 880 million in 2009, a jump of 29 percent, according to United Nations data cited in the report. But international trips to the United States fell 9 percent, the industry said.

The amount tourists spent internationally grew over the decade by more than 87 percent to 889 billion per year, but in the United States it increased only 9 percent.

By failing to keep pace, the analysis said, consequences for the United States include 68.3 million "lost" visitors, spending an average of $4,000. An estimated $509 billion in lost spending includes money that would have been used directly on travel and indirectly at restaurants and stores.

"The United States has adopted a policy of benign neglect when it comes to competing in the rapidly growing international travel market," the industry report said.

Help may be on the way as legislation the industry has requested to address the slump is expected to progress this week in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will take up the Travel Promotion Act, which would create a nonprofit corporation to develop national marketing to lure foreign visitors and keep them informed of security regulations they will encounter when they arrive.

The corporation's budget would be covered by a $10 fee on visitors from U.S.-allied countries, and matching funds from travel companies.

"All around the world, countries advertise their tourism. All we see on TV is money being spent by other countries having us go to their countries," Reid said. "We want to do the same in their countries."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.