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The US tourism trade surplus is shrinking fast

Dan Kopf
Chinese tourist visiting Wall Street in New York City.

Foreign tourists in the US used to spend a lot more money than American tourists did abroad. That is quickly changing.

In 2015, travelers to the US spent an average of about $22.4 billion per month in the country (adjusted for inflation). By contrast, US travelers spent only about $13.5 billion a month abroad that year, according to data from the US Department of Commerce. Since then, though, this gap in spending has been shrinking.

To be specific, the difference between monthly US traveler spending abroad and foreign traveller spending in the US fell from around $9 billion in 2015 to $5 billion this year.

There are a variety of reasons for this decline. A strong US dollar has made it more expensive for people to visit the US, and the US government has made it more difficult for foreigners to visit by rejecting a larger share of travel visas. The Trump administration’s antagonistic stance toward China has also likely had a large effect. The number of Chinese visitors to the US has fallen by about 5% since the outbreak of a trade war between the two countries in 2017.


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