The U.S. Department of Commerce recently announced that international visitors spent an estimated $10.4 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States during the month of December—nearly $845 million less (7 percent) than was spent in December 2008. December 2009 marks the fourteenth consecutive month in which U.S. travel and tourism-related exports were lower when compared to the same period of the previous year.

International visitors spent, on average, nearly $1.7 billion less a month during 2009, resulting in a record-setting year-over-year decline of nearly $20.1 billion in exports (14 percent) when compared to 2008. For perspective, the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001 facilitated a $13.3 billion decline in U.S. travel and tourism-related exports (13 percent) when compared to 2000. Simply put, the global economic downturn has created the most difficult environment for the tourism industry since 9/11.

Monthly Travel and Tourism Highlights

Total travel and tourism-related exports—spending by international visitors in the United States—totaled $121.6 billion in 2009, down more than 14 percent ($20.1 billion) when compared to 2008.

Total travel and tourism-related imports—spending by Americans traveling abroad— totaled $98.2 billion, down nearly 13 percent ($14.2 billion).

The U.S. travel and tourism industry generated a $23.5 billion trade surplus (i.e., travel and tourism exports minus imports) in 2009, a 20 percent less favorable balance of trade when compared to 2008.

The recent downturn in U.S. travel and tourism exports, beginning in the closing months of 2008, interrupted more than sixty consecutive months of positive growth.