International travel to the U.S. is expected to drop even more in 2017, in what some are calling the Trump Slump. Through June, international travel to the United States is down nearly 4 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Tourism experts in the United States attribute that drop to several factors, including a strong U.S. dollar, which makes it more expensive to travel here. Another reason: the rhetoric and policies of President Donald Trump, which may be seen as unwelcoming by some international travelers.
But the news isn’t all bad for the tourism economy. Ohio seems to be bucking the national trend, attracting an increasing number of overseas travelers in recent years. And the number is only expected to increase in the coming years, as Cleveland welcomes two new nonstop flights from Iceland starting in May.
Emily Lauer, Destination Cleveland‘s senior director of communications, recently attended the World Travel Market, a massive travel trade show in London, to sell the city to European tour operators and travel agents.
Toby McCarrick, executive director of Great Lakes USA, said overseas travel to the Great Lakes region – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania – is up 16 percent over the past five years.
Among the reasons why: An increasingly experienced overseas travel market. Most overseas visitors to the United States don’t come to Ohio – or even Chicago – on their first or second visit. But after they’ve been here a few times, and toured New York City, Orlando and Las Vegas, they’re ready to spread out.
“As they become more familiar with the United States, they become more adventurous,” said Amir Eylon, a former director of Tourism Ohio and current president of Longwoods International, a travel consulting firm. “They’re looking for what they perceive to be the authentic America.”
Another reason for the increase: A growing number of international students attending college in the United States. The Department of Commerce counts as visitors anyone who comes for less than a year, a number that includes many students. And many of them come to school in the Great Lakes states, home to many large research universities.
“Our region has more Chinese students than any other region in the country,” said McCarrick.
Great Lakes USA targets these students – and their families – in their tourism marketing. “They’re already here, so why not get them traveling?” said McCarrick, who works with Chinese student organizations to promote regional travel. “We’re encouraging them to get out of Columbus and get up to Cleveland and see the Rock Hall. Or go to Cincinnati, or go see Amish country.”
Lauer, with Destination Cleveland, said her organization doesn’t track overseas travelers to the city. But she speculated that Cleveland may have seen an increase in international visitors in 2016 for several reasons: The Republican National Convention and the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA championship run, both of which attracted journalists and attendees from around the world; plus several conventions that are international draws, including the International Economic Development Council and Content Marketing World.
An increase in business travel, too, contributes to the growth. Outside of Cleveland, Honda of America in Marysville and Chinese-owned Fuyao Glass America, near Dayton, draw numerous international visitors every year, said Todd Walker, chief communications officer for the Ohio Development Services Agency.
Looking ahead, McCarrick anticipates 2018 will be a strong year for international travel to the Great Lakes states. In addition to the two new Iceland flights to Cleveland, Wow Air is also launching service in Cincinnati and Detroit.