The US travel and tourism market remains the world’s biggest and most powerful, despite long travel restrictions during Covid-19.

According to the latest global trends report from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the country managed to bolster its numbers through domestic travel, despite a much lower number of international visitors.

President and CEO Julia Simpson said: “Our report shows the resilience of the travel and tourism sector, despite the impact of travel restrictions around the world which failed to halt the spread of the virus.”

The research, conducted by Oxford Economics, shows there has been no change in the top three countries – with China second and Germany third. However, while the US travel and tourism market retained its number one position, its economy fell by $700 billion in 2019, to just under $1.3 trillion last year.

International traveller spend rankings in the US saw it toppled from its pre-pandemic top position. But despite the challenges of the past two years, the new report from the global tourism body shows business travel is on the road to recovery.

US travel and tourism
Yosemite National Park. Credit: Aniket Deole

Commenting further, Simpson added: “Despite a challenging macro environment, Travel & Tourism has bounced back. The world, with some exceptions, is travelling again. And we are seeing a resurgence in business travel. Over the next 10 years, Travel & Tourism growth will outstrip the global economy.” 

WTTC data reveals that, behind the US travel and tourism sector’s contribution to GDP, China held onto its second position with more than USD $814 billion. While Germany remained the third biggest travel and tourism sector in the world, contributing USD $251 billion to the German economy.

The UK slipped dramatically from fifth place in 2019 to ninth in 2021, with a contribution of just over USD $157 billion, the biggest faller of the top 10 countries.

In terms of international traveller spend, France, which before the pandemic struck was in fourth place, overtook Spain, China, and the US to grab first place.

China, which remains closed to much of the rest of the world, was in second place before the pandemic, but fell dramatically to 11th position in 2021.

US travel and tourism
Golden Gate Bridge. Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel / Unsplash

Across Asia Pacific, major travel and tourism markets such as Thailand and Japan saw huge losses in international spending, which resulted in both markets – in fifth and eighth place respectively before the pandemic – falling out of the top 20 altogether in 2021.

According to WTTC’s predictions, worldwide business travel is expected to grow more than 41% this year. For the next 10 years it predicts business travel could grow an average of 5.5% annually and may return faster in the Asia-Pacific region.

WTTC predicts the success of the US travel and tourism market could be overtaken by China in 2032. The research shows the China sector’s contribution to GDP could reach USD $3.9 trillion by 2032, making it the world’s most powerful. While India could leapfrog Germany to reach third place with a projected value of USD $457 billion.

Key Points

WTTC’s latest annual research shows:

  • Travel and tourism’s contribution to GDP rose by USD $1 trillion last year
  • The sector contributed 10.3% to global GDP in 2019, a share which fell to 5.3% in 2020 due to ongoing restrictions. This increased to 6.1% in 2021
  • Some 62 million jobs were lost in 2020, representing a decline of 18.6%. This left just 271 million employed across the global sector compared to 333 million in 2019. In 2021, 18.2 million jobs were recovered which represents a 6.7% increase year-on-year
  • Domestic visitor spending increased by 31.4% in 2021, following a decrease of 47.4% in 2020
  • International visitor spending increased by 3.8% in 2021, following a decrease of 69.7% in 2020
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