Foreign Tourism Gaining After Three Lean Years

June 05, 1985|DONNA K. H. WALTERS | Times Staff Writer

Foreign tourism in the United States is up this year, but the travel industry isn't quite ready to celebrate.

That's because, even with a predicted 4% annual increase, foreign tourism in 1985 won't match its level of even two years ago.

After three consecutive years of declines in foreign travel to the United States, the Commerce Department's Tourism and Travel Administration is looking for improvement in 1985 and 1986.

So far, so good, said Don Wynegar, director of the agency's office of research. "We're seeing a turnaround," Wynegar said, quickly adding, "but we're improving from a low level."

Wynegar and Donna F. Tuttle, undersecretary of commerce for travel and tourism, were in Los Angeles on Tuesday at a convention of foreign travel agents and tour operators. It is one of many ways in which the government has joined with the travel industry to promote America as a destination.

Tourism here has been hurt by the strength of the dollar, which makes this country more expensive for foreign travelers, and by the weakness of other countries' economies.

Those factors have also encouraged U.S. residents to travel overseas, with the result that they spent $8.3 billion more in other countries in 1984 than foreign tourists spent here--the largest international travel deficit ever and a 49% increase from 1983.

As the dollar slackens a bit and other countries recover economically, foreign tourism here is bound to pick up, U.S. officials say. That's good news for California, which gets almost 20% of all money spent in this country by foreign tourists.

In 1985, 21.6 million foreign tourists are expected to spend about $14.5 billion in the United States. Last year, 20.8 million foreign visitors spent $11.4 billion; of that, $2.63 billion was spent in California, for about one-tenth of the state's total tourism revenue.

Even though international tourism was up about 2% worldwide in 1984, to about 300 million tourists, the United States lost market share. Only about 6.9% of those visitors came to this country in 1984, according to the tourism agency, compared to 7.4% of all foreign travelers in 1983.

Also in 1984, the country's share of travel expenditures dropped to 11.4% from 11.9% the year before.

Traditionally, more than half of the foreign travelers to the United States are from Canada, where the currency has taken a beating against the dollar. But in 1984, 8% fewer Canadians visited the United States than the year before.

William Tolson, the tourism administration's director for Canada, said that, to boost travel, the government is helping subsidize public and private discount plans that would allow Canadians to visit the United States without feeling the effects of their currency's weakness.

Still, expectations are moderate. "If we could maintain status quo" with 1984's mark of about 10.9 million visits, Tolson said, "that would be great." FOREIGN TOURISTS TO THE UNITED STATES In millions of arrivals

1980 22.5 1981 23.8 1982 21.9 1983 21.7 1984 20.8 1985 21.6

Source: Dept. of Commerce

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