Statue of Liberty - one of the must-sees for tourists to the US (Photo: Reuters)
A record 62 million foreigners visited the United States last year, spending $153 billion on travel and tourism-related services, the US government said Wednesday.
Releasing tourism industry data for 2011, the Commerce Department said spending by domestic as well as international tourists grew 8.1 per cent from a year earlier to $1.2 trillion, "supporting an additional 103,000 jobs for a total of 7.6 million."
"A big factor in the increase was a surge in international visitors to our country: in 2011, 62 million international visitors came to the United States, an increase of 2.5 million from the year before," it said.
The number of visitors from the Middle East climbed an annual 10 per cent to around 810,688, according to data. But Mideast tourism saw a sharp one-month fall in March, when it slipped 16.5 per cent -- a possible reflection of the political turmoil shaking the region at the time.
Just over one million of 2011's additional visitors came from Canada, far and away the leading source of foreign visitors to the United States. In all, 21 million Canadian residents crossed the border last year.
One powerful incentive for Canadians to visit the United States has been the strength of the Canadian dollar, which was worth more than its American counterpart for most of last year, observers say.
Another 608,000 additional visitors in 2011 came from Western European countries, for a total of nearly 12 million, and about a half-million more from South America for a record 3.76 million.
But there was only a three per cent increase in visitors from Asia, to just over 7.2 million, a two per cent decrease in those from Central America, and virtually no change in the number of Mexican visitors.
"Every year, tens of millions of tourists from all over the world visit America, and the more visitors we have, the more Americans we get back to work," Commerce Secretary John Bryson said.
He said President Barack Obama's administration "will not let up on our efforts to support the tourism industry and make America more welcoming to visitors from all over the world."
Brand USA, a public-private partnership that promotes inbound tourism, said it expects the trend to accelerate as the United States launches its first-ever global campaign in May to sell itself as a premier travel destination.
In an email to AFP, it also anticipated more foreign visitors "as the United States makes the process for more visitors to experience the USA more efficient and welcoming" -- a reference to efforts to simplify visa procedures.