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Foreign tourists used to spill off behemoth tour buses and roam the country in slow-moving herds. Now only 3 percent of the estimated 26 million overseas visitors who travel to the United States annually do so with tour groups. Some 36 percent are lone rangers, while another 27 percent are accompanied by family or friends and 26 percent travel just with their spouse. These international visitors remain in the U.S. for an average of 16 nights and spend about $1,647 per person during their stay. 1 Last year, they shelled out $91 billion on everything from meals to souvenirs.

Despite all the options, two-thirds of overseas guests visit only one state. That state is most likely to be California, drawing 24.5 percent of foreign guests in 2000, followed by Florida (23.2 percent) and New York (22.8 percent). As our map illustrates, our international visitors gravitate to coastal states and the bright lights of big cities, such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami. A contiguous block of states shaded in cream — stretching from Idaho to Mississippi — are less popular with international tourists. (In our map, states in burnt orange are the most likely to host international travelers, while those in cream are the least likely.)

The map is based on estimates generated by the International Trade Administration's Tourism Industries office, which collects data on nonresident visitors to the U.S. from in-flight surveys administered on outbound airplanes. The surveys ask international air travelers not only where they're from and where they stayed, but also the purpose of their trip, destinations visited and how they spent their time here. The results are weighted based on information collected by Immigration and Naturalization Service questionnaires that ask visiting noncitizens their country of residency and citizenship. Not surprisingly, our neighbors generate the most visitors. In 2000, 15 million of all 51 million international visitors hailed from Canada (29 percent) and 10 million from Mexico (20 percent). Proximity doesn't come into play in the case of Japan, which produces 5 million (10 percent) of our visitors. Our guests display marked preferences: Asians prefer the West Coast and Hawaii, Europeans the East Coast and visitors from South America Florida.

The most popular reason for visiting the U.S. is R&R (46 percent), followed by work (26 percent) and seeing friends or family (19 percent). Whatever the purpose of the trip, most visitors (87 percent) shop once they get here, spending an average of $318 per person on gifts and souvenirs alone. That's a lot of Mickey Mouse hats, green foam Statue of Liberty headdresses and Alcatraz T-shirts.


Top 5 tourist-generating countries for the U.S. in 2001:

Canada 14.6
Mexico 10.3
Japan 5.0
United Kingdom 4.7
Germany 1.8
Source: Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Office of Travel & Tourism, 2002


At least 1 in 3 overseas visitors* (31 percent) heads for an amusement or theme park, while only 1 in 5 visits a national park.

Shopping 87%
Dining in restaurants 84%
City sightseeing 43%
Amusement/theme parks 31%
Visit historical places 31%
Water sports/sunbathing 23%
Tour countryside 21%
Visit national parks 20%
*Overseas travelers do not include visitors from Canada or Mexico.
Source: Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Office of Travel & Tourism, 2001

1 Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Office of Travel & Tourism Industries. Unless otherwise noted, all numbers are based on 2000 data, the most recent information available.

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