Editorial: Better late than never

US government finally publishes arrival statistics

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

Dear readers,

After a delay of a full year the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) of the USA has finally published new arrival data, including data for its arrivals from China.

Tourism statistics are always problematic, either because they only report travelers staying in hotels with at least ten beds, or because they are based on border interviews which tend to underreport Chinese arrivals, or ultimately because the numbers are tinkered with for political reasons.

The NTTO of USA informed the users of its website at the beginning of last year that they found serious flaws in the way statistics were collected and processed. April 2018 was the last month for which statistics were provided for an entire year and deadlines for new numbers were given and broken.

Now, a new set of statistics has become available, using the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Customs and Border Protection (DHS/CBP) Entry-Exit I-94 Record. Data was provided up until March 2019, with April and May figures supposed to become available on June 25th.

The numbers, however, do look a bit fishy. Previously, the total number of arrivals of Residents of China for 2016 had been given before as 3,177,277. Now, without explanation, this number has fallen to 3,049,942. The YoY growth rate for the last year of the Obama presidency is therefore is no longer 21% but now 16%. In 2017, arrivals fell from 3,300,486 to 3,173,915, but the YoY growth rate stated the same as 4% due to the lower amount for 2016. In 2018 the number now published is just shy of three million at 2,991,813, representing a YoY decline of only 6%. The COTRI ANALYTICS estimate for 2018 had been 2.83 million, which would represent, based on the previous data set, a decline of 14%.

If somebody would be given the task to let the numbers look better for the current administration, that is what they would look like. However, Honi soit qui mal y pense, of course.

Even using the revised numbers, 2018 is the first year since 2003 that the US has seen less Chinese travelers compared to the previous year. The US government forecasts Chinese tourism to grow in 2019 to 3.3 million visitors. If this goal can be achieved it will not rely on the un-broken wishes of many Chinese travelers to visit the USA, but on big policy developments in the second half of the year.

With best wishes for a peaceful and profitable week,

Prof. Dr. Arlt and the COTRI WEEKLY team