Forty million Americans flew out of the U.S. in 2023 through July, finally surpassing pre-pandemic levels, with more Americans eschewing some of the long-favored beach locations in Mexico for locales in the Caribbean and small but increasing numbers going to African, Middle Eastern and South American countries, according to new data from the U.S. International Trade Administration, which tracks nonstop flights from the United States.
2023’s 40 million travelers is an 8.6% increase over 2019 through July, the last year before Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe and shuttered international travel.
Popular European destinations like the U.K. (which recorded 3 million American visitors in 2023 through July), France (1.5 million) and Germany (1.6 million) maintained their dominance over the American tourist market, with a total of 11.7 million Americans traveling to Europe, attracting 29.1% of total U.S. citizens traveling outside the country.
Mexico, which is famous for its beach resorts towns of Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, recorded 8.3 million American visitors through July of this year, which is a 6% increase from the same period in 2019, but represents a lower share of overall U.S. travel abroad, while travel to the Caribbean, home to beach islands like the Bahamas, Antigua and the Cayman Islands, saw travel shoot up 20.3% during that same time period.
Ryan Hymel, CFO of Playa Hotels and Resorts, which operates 13 hotels throughout Mexico, said in a recent earnings call that tourists had “destination fatigue” from Mexico and that the company was seeing demand fall in favor of other locations like Europe and the Caribbean, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Middle East was the destination for a relatively small number of American tourists (2.2 million visitors), but that number still represents a significant jump (46.1%) over the amount of Americans who traveled there during the same time period in 2021.
The increasing numbers of tourists post-pandemic came on the backs of countries like Qatar (494,000 American visitors in 2023 and a 92% increase over 2019), which has spent $220 billion on tourism projects since 2010 and held the FIFA World Cup in 2022; Israel (442,000 American visitors in 2023 and a 36.2% increase over 2019), which sees lots of religious tourism from Jews and Christians looking to visit their religions’ holy sites; and Turkey (560,000 American visitors and an 81.1% increase over 2019).
Other English-majority-speaking countries like Australia (-33.7%), Canada (-16.1%) and New Zealand (-14.1%) recorded decreases in U.S. visitors from 2019 to 2023 through July.
The data shows nonstop flights from the U.S. to foreign countries, which means it could be skewed by travelers who fly to one country and connect to another. This is particularly the case for countries with large airlines that make connecting travelers between two international locales their business model, like many in the Middle East and Europe.
While U.S. travel outside the country has returned to pre-pandemic levels, travel from foreign visitors into the U.S. has not, according to this data. The U.S. saw 30.2 million foreigners visiting the country in 2023 through July. That’s a far cry from the 37.7 million that visited in the first seven months of 2019. However, international tourism to the U.S. was already on the decline (the U.S. saw 41 million international visitors in the first seven months of 2017), and experts have pointed to various reasons. In 2019, Amnesty International issued a travel warning for the U.S., saying that visitors should be wary in the country due to the high amounts of gun violence. Some experts said that foreigners’ perceptions of the Trump Administration deterred many from visiting the country. “Ongoing global economic cooling, prolonged and expanding trade tensions, and uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration remain major risks to international traveler sentiment,” read a 2019 report from the U.S. Travel Association.