David Huether, senior vice president of economics and research at the U.S. Travel Association, provides analysis on today’s Commerce Department announcement on international trade:
“While travel exports softened a bit in the past several months, foreign visitors to the U.S. gave our economy an overall shot in the arm in 2011. Up 13.5 percent through the first 11 months compared to 2010, travel exports totaled $139.4 billion in 2011. With travel imports totaling $101 billion through November, the travel trade surplus in 2011 has so far increased to $38.4 billion, which is up 33 percent from the $28.8 billion surplus through the first 11 months of 2010.
“After increasing seven of the prior eight months, travel and tourism exports edged down $283 million to $12.7 billion in November. Meanwhile, imports of travel and tourism also edged down in November to $9.2 billion. The drop in November travel exports was mirrored by declines in other major export categories, such as agricultural products, industrial supplies and capital goods. Overall, U.S. exports slipped 1.5 billion in November while imports rose by 2.9 billion, which together increased the overall trade deficit to a five-month high of $47.8 billion.
“While many associate U.S. exports with agricultural or industrial products shipped abroad, the fact is that international visitation to the U.S. is a major source of exports. In fact, year-to-date 2011 travel and tourism exports surpassed agricultural exports as well as exports of civilian aircraft, semiconductors, telecommunications equipment and computers combined.
“Clearly, travel is the unsung hero of the current export recovery that has been one of the few bright spots in this fledgling recovery.
“But we must do more. An inefficient and taxing U.S. visa system is inhibiting millions of potential travelers from across the globe from visiting the United States, and U.S. allies with growing economies should be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program.
“With an unemployment rate at 8.5 percent, our economy needs more job creation immediately. Increasing foreign visitors to the U.S., who in 2010 generated $241 billion in economic output and supported 1.8 million American jobs that cannot be outsourced, is one of the most efficient, fast-acting and least costly job programs that the government could promote.”