Los Angeles and New York City each enjoyed record tourism in 2017, with an uptick in visitors despite a nationwide decline in international visitors during the first half of the year, city and tourism officials announced Wednesday.
Los Angeles welcomed 48.3 million visitors last year, representing 1 million more visitors than the previous year for 2.2% growth, according to Tourism Economics, a Pennsylvania company that analyzes travel data.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and Ernest Wooden Jr., CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, announced that the figures included 41.2 million domestic visitors — an all-time high — and 7.1 million international visitors, which beat the city’s forecast.
The biggest gains came from China, with 1.1 million visitors representing a 6% increase from the previous year; Canada, with 747,000 visitors representing 5.5% growth; and South Korea, with 315,000 visitors representing 6.3% growth.
“In 2018, we will extend and amplify our message of ‘welcome’ and intertwine a message of hospitality, fueling even greater momentum towards our north star of 50 million visitors by the year 2020,” Wooden said.
New York City estimated it had 61.8 million visitors last year, up from 60.5 million in 2016, according to Chris Heywood, a spokesman for NYC & Co., the city’s official tourism marketing organization.
The 2.1% growth represented a gain in domestic visitors to 49.2 million, but a decline in international visitors to 12.6 million, Heywood said. But the loss of 100,000 international visitors was less than the forecast 300,000 drop, he said.
“We ended the year at an all-time record high,” Heywood said. “Earlier in the year, after the Trump inauguration, we were very concerned about the international numbers. To some extent, we still are. The good news was that Canada did quite well – better than expected.”
International visitors are considered more lucrative than domestic visitors because they stay longer and spend more, Heywood said. The rule of thumb is that one international visitor brings the same spending power as four domestic visitors, he said.
“A lot is at stake when it comes to international,” Heywood said.
More about tourism in Los Angeles and nationwide:
The gains came despite a 4% decline nationwide in international arrivals, which totaled nearly 41.1 million from January through July, the most recent figures available from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Office.
Nationwide, 4.6% more Canadians arrived, for a total of nearly 11.6 million, mirroring the Los Angeles experience. But visitors from Mexico declined 8.5% to nearly 9.6 million and from everywhere else overseas were down 6.4% to 19.9 million.
The declines had been expected because of changes in travel policies during the first year of the Trump administration, including prohibitions against arrivals from a half-dozen countries in the Middle East and Africa; tougher scrutiny of visas and security screening at checkpoints; and a proposal to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.
The security measures were aimed at defending the country better from terrorism and crime. But travel groups worried that the efforts would discourage tourism, a $250 billion industry in the U.S.
International travelers to the U.S. spent 3.3% less last year through November than the comparable period a year earlier, costing the economy $4.6 billion, according to a Friday report by the Commerce Department’s bureau of economic analysis.
“For our country to have any hope of closing the trade gap, international inbound travel must perform, simple as that,” said Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “After almost a decade and a half of relatively sustained post-9/11 recovery, since 2015 there’s been evidence that the country has gotten complacent with the policies needed to support this vital economic engine and job creator.”
To combat an unwelcoming image, state and local groups embarked on more advertising overseas.
NYC & Co. distributed posters “welcoming the world” with city symbols including the Statue of Liberty in international markets such as Australia, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, Heywood said.
“In 2017, we spent more time than ever traveling internationally to reinforce the fact that New York City was open for business and we welcome the world, and reinforcing our pillars of diversity and inclusion,” Heywood said. “We were very proactive.”
Los Angeles Tourism launched an initiative in April called “Everyone is Welcome” to reinforce the city’s diversity. A video and social-media messages portrayed a city with numerous sightseeing and artistic attractions for a wide variety of people.
The campaign boosted the likelihood that people in Australia, the United Kingdom, China and Mexico would visit Los Angeles, according to a study by ORC International, a market-research firm.
“Our ‘Everyone is Welcome’ campaign was the right message at the right time,” Wooden said. “It was a message of humanity and encouraged people around the globe to see the diversity of L.A.’s faces and places.”
Airlines are carrying more of those visitors. Airlines boosted seating capacity arriving in Los Angeles nearly 21% compared to the year before from South Korea, nearly 20% from Mexico, nearly 11% from Canada, 10% from China and 8% from the United Kingdom, according to the tourism board.
For example, during the last year Alitalia boosted its capacity to Rome from Los Angeles International Airport. United Airlines added a flight to Singapore in October. And Norwegian Air added routes to Barcelona in June and to Rome in November, and more flights to Scandinavia this winter “due to the high demand,” spokesman Anders Lindstrom said.
“The West Coast is performing exceptionally well for us,” Lindstrom said, with nearly as many tickets sold in California as in Europe. “It’s a destination with strong demands on both ends. We also see great interest from both business and leisure travelers, which make them strong performing routes.”
Specifically for China, Xiamen Air began service to Xiamen in June and to Qindao in September. Sichuan Airlines, which also serves Chengdu and Hangzhou, began service to Jinan in December 2016.
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