Stat: U.S. Ahead of Pace to See 100 Million Visitors by 2021

Good news for inbound travel to the United States: According to a projection by the research and economics team at the U.S. Travel Association, the country is on pace to exceed the goal of 100 million annual international visitors set by the National Travel and Tourism Strategy (NTTS) for 2021.

When the Obama administration laid out the NTTS on May 10, 2012, a rate of 4.8 percent annual growth was needed to reach its 2021 goal. The country is ahead of that pace, achieving an average of 5.5 percent annual growth in the two years since (growth from 2011-2013).

In raw numbers, 4.8 percent growth would have meant 6.2 million new visitors; the country has bested that mark by 876,000 visitors, adding 7.1 million new inbound international travelers in the last two years. Total international visitors now stand at just under 70 million annually.

"We knew President Obama's goal for 2021 was ambitious. We also knew it was very achievable with the right strategy," said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow in a statement. "Travel has recovered jobs at a 49 percent faster rate than the rest of the economy since the recession, and it was the second-fastest growing U.S. industry last year. Also, since inbound international travel counts as an export, travel is one of the strongest contributors to the U.S. trade balance—it's the third-largest overall export.

Dow noted that a number of beneficial federal policies have only begun to affect the positive trend in international travel. Among them: The new federal budget provides for 2,000 new Customs and Border Protection agents; the Visa Waiver Program and Global Entry programs are continuing to expand, and the still-new Brand USA tourism promotion program is going strong.

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"There are other things we still have to do, such as pass the JOLT Act and permanently renew Brand USA [the public-private partnership that promotes increased international travel to the United States], but overall we have implemented a recipe for success that has enabled the travel industry to really get cooking on behalf of the U.S. economy," Dow said.