I came across an article that questions the decline in arrivals for tourism purposes to the United States. It was making the case of immigration being the challenged. However, I firmly believe it missed the point of tourism in the country. America is driving by domestic consumption.
In Kansas City, just one city of many that has a tourism sector; less than ten percent of the arrivals actually come from international arrivals. The other twenty two millions people come other places around the country. While the international arrivals are down nationally, the local tourism numbers are up by over two percent.
This is not just happening at the home of America’s best barbecue either. Numbers for Oklahoma City, Denver, and Memphis also point to this same trend. In fact, almost every city that was looked at for the writing of this article shows that domestic tourism was growing while international arrivals was down.
While some are concerned about this trend, I am not. If anything, the tourism boards across America and on the national level should be focused on building the domestic markets more than the international markets. There is many benefits to having home grown visitors besides just the reduced concerns for terrorism.
Understanding the dynamics of American tourism
It is not just the rich family that flies on a private jet to Hawaii for a weekend getaway anymore. A lot of the tourism goes on in the country is actually day trips. People who are just taking Saturday to go somewhere that they haven’t been. You multiple this by the thousands of families doing it on any given weekend and you have a lot of income being generated.
If Tom and Diane live in Kansas City but they want to get out of town for a day. They drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma early one day and come back later in the evening. They see the sights and sounds of the former oil capital of America and spend money there as tourist. What they do not know is Tulsa probably has a thousand other couples that did the same exact thing they did that weekend.
Branson is full every day of the summer of American visiting from across the country. Every hotel is full from people that are not from Europe or China but from Texas and Georgia. These people come more often and in larger numbers than anything we will ever get from Nigeria. The story of what happens in Branson is true in many other places like Pigeon Forge, Padre Island and Steamboat Springs.
What is surprising is a coalition of tourism executives would overlook the power of the American tourist and treat the industry like it is Cambodia and must rely completely on foreign tourism. The reality is that the United States is not like the countries of Southeast Asia and arrivals from other countries is not critical to keep the tourism sector up and operating.
Keeping American safe does matter
One of the main reasons that America choose to spend their vacation money inside the country is they do not have the issue of security. It does matter. The concept of just opening the borders to anyone and everyone that claims to be want to be a tourist would be a security and ultimately a military nightmare. ISIS would love an open border to tourist policy. Just checking the box next to tourist can not excuse one from being vetted by our border control agencies.
It is an uncomfortable truth but the terrorist that were the pilots on September 11, 2001 came to the United States via Canada claiming to be tourists and for educational purposes. I am not saying anyone from the Middle East must be considered a threat to the people of the United States but I am saying that is a concern that we need to have and that should matter more than a few tourism dollars.
We live in a time of history that protecting our borders has become a major political discourse. It would completely undermine every step to securing our borders to just allow them to come in under the falsehood of “tourist.” What would be the point of building a multi-million dollar wall to slow the human trafficking down from Mexico if we just hand people from Mexico stamps who cry tourism?
The citizens who remain in the country for vacation will generate much money income for local tourism agencies than any amount of guests that come from Syria or Pakistan. One of the driving factors for domestic travel is safety, after all.
Am I calling for America first?
Some people would say that what I am saying is just President Trump’s America first policy. It is basically what I am saying. Our tourism is best when it is driven by Americans. As a country, we are in the position that can drive our own hospitality industry without relying on people from Kenya and Canada to make it happen. It is true that many countries can not do this but the United States is one that can.
This is not a call to close down the borders to tourists from England or Germany that want to come and see New York City or visit Hawaii. We have always had a degree of international tourism and that will continue. It is just to say the focus of the industry should be on building up arrivals from within the region, not from across the world.
I firmly believe that have a market that is mainly driven by domestic domination is the preferred policy of that any tourism board should have anywhere. These countries that have dependency on international arrivals for their income are rolling the dice and hoping to get lucky. My dealings with the Filipinos over the years is evidence that without the Americans and the Koreans, the whole industry would be broken tomorrow.
At the end of the day, the focus of this US Coalition’s report is just misguided and they are not considering the raw power of the American tourist and the economics that drive it.