US travel and tourism industry continues its recovery
2010/2011 proved to be a year of strong growth in the US travel and tourism industry, with 2011/2012 continuing in much the same vein. Growth rates in most categories dipped slightly from the strong, rebounding recovery of the previous year, but maintained an encouraging and positive trajectory. Inbound foreign visitors emerged as a key engine of continued growth, particularly from vital emerging markets. US travellers nevertheless show little sign of shedding their low price expectations, with high penetration rates for online travel retailing, comparison shopping and aggressive discount seeking among vacation seekers.
Industry consolidates through renewed M&A activity
The US travel industry faced a frenzied year of M&A activity across all areas. American Airlines (AMR Corp) continued its battle to emerge from bankruptcy through a blockbuster merger with US Airways, forming the world’s largest airline in early 2013. This follows the union of United Airlines and Continental Airlines the previous year as the competitive landscape of US legacy carriers changes dramatically. Car rental also continues to consolidate, with The Hertz Corp launching a high-profile takeover of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group in 2012 while Avis Budget Group purchased the country’s leading car sharing agency – Zipcar – in early 2013.
US government launches national tourism strategy
The US federal government finally launched a coherent national tourism strategy in 2012, commissioned at the behest of President Obama in January 2012. As the federal government begins serious engagement as a destination marketer and public partner to private tourism operators, this bodes well for US efforts to compete with global destinations in Europe and Asia. ‘Brand USA’ – operating throughout 2012 as the public face of US tourism – rebranded the US as a global destination, launching international advertising through television, print and social media. Tourism also proved to be a hot topic for US legislators in 2012/2013, with renewed efforts to reduce barriers to international travel and – potentially – expand the US Visa Waiver Program in the near future. But one big step forward could be followed by two steps back as short-term austerity cuts to the US federal budget disproportionately impact the US travel industry.
Bright skies ahead for US travel and tourism?
After the tumultuous period experienced in 2001/2002 and 2008/2009, the US travel industry is poised to experience a period of more consistent growth, with inbound and domestic tourism receipts forecast to increase their contribution to US GDP to 2017. While unemployment and political gridlock remain obstacles, other areas of the wider US economy enjoy stronger positions than global competitors in Europe and Asia. Leisure markets will remain strong, with particularly good prospects for growth in inbound business arrivals. Harnessing consumer-focused technologies – particularly in the realm of mobile commerce – will be a key challenge for travel operators over the forecast period as operator investment determines how constructive, or disruptive, these new platforms will be for the industry.
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