Leisure Travel and Visiting Friends/Relatives Lead the Growth in Travel from Overseas to the United States

The U.S. Department of Commerce, National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO), today announced the results of its 2015 Survey of International Air Travelers (SIAT). The SIAT is a primary research program, launched in 1983, that estimates overseas visitor volumes to destinations (states and cities) and provides traveler characteristics of those visitors from overseas and Mexico (air) to the United States and its destinations.

On June 9th Commerce reported that a record 77.5 million international visitors traveled to the United States in 2015, up three percent over 2014. Travel volume from overseas regions totaled 38.4 million and was up 10 percent compared to 2014, although in 2015 the increase in overseas arrivals was a combination of increased records reported by the Department of Homeland Security and shifts in the marketplace. The 2015 international arrivals report can be found at: http://travel.trade.gov/outreachpages/download_data_table/2015_Visitation_Report.pdf

Destinations Visited:

Top States/Territories Visited by Overseas Travelers in 2015: New York State was the most visited state by overseas travelers in 2015. It has been the most visited state for 15 consecutive years. Visitation to the state (10.39 million) increased by two percent. However, its share of all overseas travelers slipped from 29.0 percent to 27.1. Floridaremained in second position, with a 12 percent increase in visitation, bringing it to 9.7 million, a record for overseas travel to the state. Â Florida has held the number two spot seven times since 2001 and was tied for first in 2001 and 2003. California visitation (8.1 million) increased 12 percent from 2014 helping it maintain third position. The state has held the number two position six times since 2003.

Nevada, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, Guam and Arizona rounded out the ‘top 10’ states/territories visited. Of the 24 states/territories for which estimates are available, double-digit increases were recorded for 14 states. Michigan, Washington State and Louisiana posted the highest growth rates at 40 (Michigan) and 36 percent, respectively for Washington and Louisiana. Overseas visitation records were also set by all of the top 10 states listed for 2015 except Hawaii, New Jersey, Michigan, Colorado, and Connecticut. The record visitation analysis compares the NTTO overseas visitation estimates between 1995 and 2015.

Top Cities Visited by Overseas Travelers in 2015: The cities most visited by overseas travelers in 2015 were New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston. Of the 24 city visitation estimates issued, 21 posted increases, 14 of which were double-digit increases. The largest visitation increases were experienced by New Orleans (37 percent) and Seattle and Dallas (33 percent). All of the 10 top cities visited listed for 2015 set overseas visitation records when comparing the NTTO visitation estimates for 1995 to 2015. See below (1), regarding ports of entry and cities ‘visited.’

To view the top states and cities visited by overseas travelers, please go to the inbound section

Traveler Characteristics: The increase in travel, measured by all trip purposes, was driven by leisure (vacation) and visiting friends and relatives (VFR). Business travel to the United States was up, but convention travel was flat. The average number of states and destinations visited increased. The average length of stay increased as did travel party size. The share of tour packages declined and the incidence of first time travelers grew slightly. The use of intercity transportation modes declined, but the use of auto and cruises (one plus nights) increased.

Trip Purposes:

  • Leisure Travel (Vacation/Holiday for all purposes of trip), estimated at a record 26.03 million travelers in 2015, increased nine percent from 2014. Countries that produced increases in leisure travel among the top 10 included the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France, South Korea, China, Argentina, Australia and Italy. Most of the top U.S. destinations experienced growth by leisure travelers, with Florida, California, Nevada, Illinois, Guam, Arizona and Texas posting double-digit growth in vacation visits between 2014 and 2015. All of these states set records in 2015 for the most travelers visiting the state for leisure purposes.
  • Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) estimated at 11.7 million travelers was up 11 percent from 2014.
  • Business travel, estimated at 5.6 million, increased seven percent in 2015. The top countries generating business travel to the United States were Japan, the United Kingdom, China and India. New York and California remain the big business markets; however there was double-digit growth in business travel to Florida recorded in 2015.
  • Convention travel, estimated at 3.6 million travelers, was up 16% when compared to 2014 traveler volume, and set a record in 2015.

Other Key Traveler Characteristics:

  • The average number of states visited in 2015 remained at 1.5 states and the percentage of travelers visiting only one state was 73 percent of visitors, up slightly in 2015. The average number of destinations visited also remained at 2.0 and the percent of travelers visiting only one destination increased slightly to 55 percent.
  • The length of stay in the United States averaged 17.8 nights, down from 18.4 nights in 2014. Only three of the top 10 overseas arrivals markets showed increases in the length of visit, i.e. the U.K., Germany and Australia.
  • The average travel party size remained at 1.7 persons.
  • The usage of a ‘conventional’ tour package (including, at minimum, air and lodging), is estimated at 6.6 million, up three percent from 2014. The share of all travelers using a package declined to 16.1 percent from 17.1 percent in 2014. The use of tour packages declined in the Asian markets. Consequently, the number of independent travelers increased in 2015.
  • First time travelers to the United States, as a share of all travelers, increased slightly from 23.8 in 2014 to 24.1 percent in 2015. Repeat travelers consequently decreased slightly as a share, but increased 11 percent on a total visitation basis. ‘Repeat’ visitors characteristically venture beyond the top destinations.
  • Transportation usage in United States: inter-city modes (Air/Rail/Bus travel between U.S. cities) held constant as a share of travel. The use of Cruise, Ship/River Boat, for one or more nights, and Ferry, Scenic cruises also held constant. Auto usage, both rental and private/company, increased.

Adding to the information being released today, NTTO is also releasing 27 country and 11 world regional profiles which reveal historical arrivals trends, spending estimates (where appropriate) and shifts in traveler characteristics and destinations visited. Five sector profiles (Leisure, Business, Hotel, Car Rental and Cultural Heritage Travel) were also updated for 2015. Overseas market profiles and ‘Key Facts’ about International Travel to the United States were additionally posted. Changes in visitation estimates, reported previously, will be substantiated in these profiles. To view these reports, please go to: http://travel.trade.gov/outreachpages/inbound.general_information.inbound_overview.html

In addition to the aggregate level data available on the website, NTTO also offers detailed ‘national’ and country reports and custom reports based on subscriber requirements. For information on the SIAT research program, please go to: http://travel.trade.gov/research/programs/ifs/index.html

Administrative Notes: In 2015 NTTO collected a record 49,462 non-resident (overseas inbound) SIAT responses, up seven percent from 2014. The continuation and enhancement of the supplemental survey collections at 13 gateway airports serves to improve the overall selection process and the ability to select respondents using a statistically rigorous method. In addition, NTTO partners survey passengers on more than 100 international airlines which serve all world regions from the United States.

(1) Analysis of Ports of Entry and Cities/States Visited

In 2015, most of the top 15 U.S. ports of entry experienced increases in overseas volume; however, not all of the ‘host’ cities necessarily reflected the same growth in visitation. For example, in 2015, comparing Atlanta and Chicago:

Overseas visitor arrivals at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) totaled 1.285 million, up 19 percent from 2014. However, the number of overseas arrivals who visited the city of Atlanta (Metropolitan Statistical Area) was estimated at 837,000, up 11 percent. Many arrivals to the ATL port of entry connected on flights to other destinations. However, a number of arrivals from many other U.S. ports of entry indicated visitation in Atlanta.

Overseas visitor arrivals at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) totaled 1.829 million, up 15 percent from 2014. The number of overseas arrivals who visited the city of Chicago (Metropolitan Statistical Area) was estimated to be 1.62 million, up 22 percent. Some of the arrivals to the ORD port of entry connected on flights to other destinations. However, a number of arrivals from many other U.S. ports of entry indicated visitation in Chicago.

An analysis of changes in other visitor characteristics (purpose of trip, first time/repeat, package travel and trip party size) can help pinpoint reasons for visitation changes.