Over the past two years, Spain’s national tourism agency has targeted big-spending cosmopolitan travelers from Europe and the U.S. and promoted foodie vacations in parts of Spain not typically visited by international travelers.
The work has paid off, with Spain recently surpassing the U.S. to become the second most visited country in the world by international tourists, behind only France.
U.S. travel industry leaders, miffed that Spain and a handful of other countries have been outperforming the U.S. in attracting high-spending international tourists, say they are ready to launch a new campaign to help the country retake its spot among the world’s top tourism destinations.
Part of that effort will involve borrowing from Spain’s playbook by promoting Instagrammable scenery and unique foodie favorite spots in the U.S.
“We are growing but just not at the pace of the rest of the world,” said Tori Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, the trade group for the country’s travel industry.
Although domestic travel in the U.S. is thriving, travel industry leaders worry about losing out on the country’s share of overseas visitors — so-called long-haul travelers from places like China and Europe — because they spend an average of about $4,200 per visit, much more than the domestic traveler who spends only about $400 per trip.
Spain has boosted its share of international visitors by targeting middle-class and high-income travelers in the U.S. and Europe and by promoting the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet and new experiences such as Flamenco dancing, among other messages, said Javier Rodriquez Manas, director of Spain’s tourism office in Los Angeles.
In addition, he said Spain’s tourism agency invites social media influencers to the country to visit and promote their experiences in Spain.
“We also get the message out on the internet, on Facebook and Twitter,” he said.
But it won’t be easy for the U.S. to win back foreign tourists who are increasingly heading to alternative vacation spots in Europe and Asia.
The U.S. has seen its share of global international travel drop from 13.7% in 2015 to 11.7% in 2018, with a forecast by the U.S. Travel Association suggesting that the rate could drop to 10.9% by 2022.
That drop has been blamed on several factors, including a strong U.S. currency, which makes spending in the U.S. by foreign tourists more expensive. In addition, trade tensions with China have been blamed for a drop in visits from Chinese tourists who have in the past few years been spending heavily on things such as souvenirs on Hollywood Boulevard and name-brand clothes at outlet malls in Los Angeles.
On top of that, travel industry experts say the president has sent a less-than-welcoming message to would-be foreign visitors by launching a travel ban on mostly Muslim countries and promoting the construction of a wall along the country’s southern border. The Trump administration may be ready to announce as early as Monday an expansion of that travel ban to include seven new countries, according to Politico.
Between 2015 and 2018, the number of long-haul, international visitors to the U.S. has grown by 3.1%, while the increase has been much bigger at other top tourist destinations such as Canada (23%), France (17%), Mexico (49%) and Spain (41%), according to Oxford Economics, a global economics forecasting firm.
“There continues to be a decline in international inbound travel, which is costing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars for our economy,” said Chip Rogers, chief executive of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
By failing to keep up , the U.S. Travel Association estimates that the U.S. has lost out on about 14 million more foreign visitors who would have spent an additional $59.4 billion in the U.S. between 2015 and 2018.
Congress recently restored funding for the Brand USA marketing campaign for the next seven years, giving Barnes and other U.S. travel leaders hope that the U.S. can improve the numbers. .
Christopher Thompson, chief executive of Brand USA, said he doesn’t know exactly how the campaign will market the U.S., but he said he is sure it will rely heavily on social media posts and promotion of food travel and other new unique experiences that go beyond sightseeing and souvenir shopping.