Major events set to accelerate U.S. visitor numbers

Major events set to accelerate U.S. visitor numbers

This month’s IPW, the USA’s largest annual showcase of its destinations and tourism products, was hailed as one of its most successful yet.

Held in Los Angeles, 12 years after the city last hosted the event, it attracted 5,700 delegates that included 2,000 buyers and media from 70 countries. Those figures are around 15% higher than in 2019, at the pre-pandemic benchmark, and 30% higher than 10 years ago.

The five-day show saw social events that included a performance by legendary singer Diana Ross at the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and visits to other mainstay city attractions such as the J. Paul Getty Museum, Dodger Stadium, Santa Monica Pier and Universal Studios.

New York City Tourism & Conventions brought cast members from five different Broadway shows – including Wicked, Back to the Future and Six – to perform numbers from their shows at an IPW lunch.

Delegates heard that the recovery of visitor numbers after the pandemic is accelerating, with the U.S. on track to reach its target of 90 million visitors (and spending of $279 billion) by 2027 – goals outlined in the 2022 National Travel and Tourism Strategy.

Speaking at the USA’s largest travel trade show, outgoing Brand USA CEO Chris Thompson praised the USA’s “strong” travel industry and said the vital signs for U.S. tourism are good.

Almost 67 million visitors arrived in 2023 – which was 84% of 2019 levels – and forecasts by Tourism Economics predict that nearly 78 million visitors are expected by the end of this year, with “spending” growing by 74% between 2023 and 2027.

Thompson said the volume of UK visitors will surpass 2019 visitation levels in 2025.

These numbers are expected to continue to build over the next four years as destinations across the nation plan for a series of major events that will culminate in the Olympic Games in 2028, which will be held in Los Angeles. 

These include the FIFA World Cup in 2026 – the U.S. will stage games in 11 cities – and America’s 250th Independence celebrations, also in 2026, that will be celebrated in several states.

Thompson said both the World Cup and the 250th events represent “a huge opportunity to not only welcome visitors but to get them out to places around the country they might not otherwise consider”.

Geoff Freeman, Chief Executive of the U.S. Travel Association said this rosy picture would be brighter still if measures were put in place at U.S. airports and ports to make entry procedures for arrivals more efficient and time effective.

He said there was an “urgent need” to make greater use of available technology and learn from the examples of other countries that “do it better”.

International arrivals who clear immigration heading on to another U.S city particularly face a “stressful’ situation by having to re-screen their bags again and go back through Security, a time that that can vary significantly depending on the arrival airport.

“It should be our national goal to be nothing short of number one in terms of visitor arrivals, visitor spend and visitor experience,” Freeman said.

“But our ambitions are constrained by excessively long wait times for visitor visas, often-lengthy waits at customs, and an air traffic control system that is challenged to meet demand.

“However, we can staff appropriately, use technology and demonstrate our commitment to addressing these issues,” he added.

Freeman pointed to the UK, EU and Canada as “getting it right” – with measures such as using automated artificial intelligence technology in Security and allowing people to keep on their shoes and leave liquids in their carry-on bags.

“We are in a competitive world and if we don’t get it right, travellers will look elsewhere,” he warned.

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