WASHINGTON, March 10, 2008 (AFP) - International visitors flocked to the United States in record numbers last year and spent an all-time high of 122 billion dollars, the US government said Monday.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announced that 2007 set a record for international tourism as 56.7 million international visitors pumped 122.7 billion dollars into the economy, supporting 8.5 million American jobs.
"This is yet another record-breaking year for the US travel and tourism industry and another year in which it produced a healthy trade surplus," Gutierrez said in a statement.
Spending by international travelers while in the United States, including passenger fares, is defined as a US export.
The 2007 spending by international visitors represented a nearly 14 percent increase over the prior record set in 2006 and a 53 percent increase from the low numbers following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The number of visitors last year marked an increase of 11 percent over 2006 and broke the prior record set in 2000 of 51.2 million visitors.
More than half of the international visitors came to America from neighboring Canada and Mexico, the country's partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Excluding Canada and Mexico, overseas arrivals totaled 23.9 million, up 10 percent from 2006.
However, overseas visitation levels were eight percent lower than the record year of 2000, the Commerce Department noted.
The Travel Industry Association highlighted that weakness, saying the number of visits should be higher because of the declining value of the dollar, which makes travel in the US relatively cheaper.
"America is the world travel bargain, and yet two million fewer travellers visited the United States in 2007 than in 2000," Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the industry group, said in a statement.
"In the current economic environment, the United States should be setting overseas travel records rather than inching back to pre-9/11 standards," he said.
In 2007, the top 10 countries with international visitors coming to the US were: Canada, with 17.74 million; Mexico (15.09 million); Britain (4.5 million); Japan (3.53 million); Germany (1.52 million); France (997,506); South Korea (806,175); Australia (669,536); Brazil (639,431); and Italy (634,152).
US travel and tourism industry is a 1.2-trillion-dollar industry that has generated a trade surplus for 19 consecutive years. It is one of the largest employers in the world's biggest economy.