Research Round-Up: A Deeper Look at Ballooning Trade, Hotel, Consumer Confidence Numbers

By: David Huether, Senior Vice President of Research, U.S. Travel Association

Each month, the U.S. Travel Association sends its members the U.S. Travel Outlook, which provides insight into the current state of the economy and related travel industry trends, plus other relevant data from the travel and tourism sector.

Here’s a sampling of some of March 2017’s most compelling findings from the U.S. Travel Research team. 

U.S. Exports Are Up, But What About Inbound Travel?

The Commerce Department this month reported that total U.S. exports of goods and services increased by $1 billion in January 2017, to $192 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $48.5 billion—the largest since March 2012. The agency’s March release included revisions showing that overall exports made a meaningful recovery during the second half of 2016—and in January, U.S. exports grew 7.4 percent over the same time last year, the fastest 12-month pace in roughly five years.

International travel, which remains America’s second-largest industry exportand largest service export, merits watching in the coming months, especially in the wake of high-profile executive orders on visas and immigration. Spending by international visitors edged down at the beginning of 2017, from $12.9 billion in December to $12.8 billion in January—but the Trump administration’s initial “travel ban” executive order was issued January 27, so next month’s trade data should provide a clearer picture of the executive orders’ impact on international visitation.

 

Consumer Confidence At a Record High, Though Experts Urge Caution

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey reached a 15-year highin February, indicating that consumers generally expect the economy to continue expanding in the months ahead. Similarly, the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index, which gauges consumer opinion of current and future economic events, remained positive in March.

However, economic experts, including Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, caution that consumer sentiment/confidence, however positive, may not actually impact spending. This is corroborated by January 2017’s consumer spending data, which showed that Americans have yet to act on this sky-high confidence by opening their wallets.

 

How Is the Hotel Industry Doing? 

Travel jobs were up in multiple sectors last month, but especially lodging. That’s logical, considering that 2017 is off to a good start for the U.S. hotel industry. Overall hotel room occupancy grew to 54.1 percent, while revenue per available room (RevPAR) jumped 3.8 percent from January 2016-2017, and total room revenue increased 5.7 percent. January 2017, in fact, marked the industry’s 83rdconsecutive month with a year-over-year increase in RevPar, with research firm STR noting that these were the best January results on record.

However, revenue will likely begin to taper off soon, and hotel managers will likely try to contain costs in order to increase profitability—and this usually means pressure on complimentary services and amenities. In short: the hotel industry is enjoying greater and greater profits, but that may soon end—and free breakfasts may go with it, for now.

 

A deeper dive into the data available in the March 2017 U.S. Travel Outlook—which includes the latest data on travel employment, transportation, lodging metrics and more—is online here.

U.S. Travel Association members receive the full U.S. Travel Outlook, plus a myriad of other cutting-edge research reports with information relevant to the travel industry. Learn more about the benefits of becoming a member here—or simply continue to enjoy a small taste of U.S. Travel’s research insight each month here, with the Research Round-Up.