More foreigners visit U.S. for family, friends than previously thought

UNITED STATES A surprisingly high ratio of foreign travelers to the United States do so to visit friends and family, a new survey shows.

An overwhelming majority of survey respondents, 71%, arrived to America to visit friends and family, while just 24% visited for a pleasure vacation—long considered the traditional indicators of a visit to the U.S. by foreign tourists.

The study, conducted by Mandala Research in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and commissioned by department store chain Macy’s and the Shop America Alliance, polled 2,500 inbound travelers to the U.S. who had visited within the past 12 months regarding their overall itineraries and specifically on their shopping plans.

The initial findings detail key trends among the top five emerging growth markets as identified by the Department of Commerce, including visitors from Australia, Brazil, China, India and Korea, countries where the U.S. projects arrivals growth from 15% to 40% within the next three years. Conducted from August through October, the survey found that travelers from these markets spent on average US$3,517 on their trip, about a third of that on shopping.

Just over three quarters (76%) of travelers from these markets bring two or more electronic devices on their trip to the United States, and slightly more than half (51%) carry a smartphone. During their trip, texting was the most used feature, followed by electronic maps. In addition, 10% of all travelers access social media sites with their smartphones.

Shopping is a key driver for these travelers in their choice of the United States as a destination, with a majority (56%) saying shopping was the key reason they took the trip or that it helped them choose among destinations. In addition, these travelers purchased more than the twice the amount they had planned to purchase while shopping in the country.   

Other popular activities named by respondents included visiting amusement parks, national and state parks, museums, zoos and aquariums; seeking out unique dining experiences; attending concerts and theatrical shows; experiencing spa services; and gambling. In addition, almost half of Chinese travelers looked at real estate during their visit.

Asked to choose among a variety of well-known U.S. brands, travelers choose McDonald’s as the most recognized American brand.