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Foreign Tourism Drops in United States

A rebound in travel is expected in 2010, but the US government predicts a shift in the makeup of foreign visitors, with arrivals from Asia and South America growing by double digits

The US government predicts the number of overseas visitors to the United States will rise this year following a steady decline for much of 2009. The increase in arrivals is expected to come largely from developing nations, as the global economic recovery in America's traditional Western markets remains sluggish.

Millions of foreign tourists flock to Florida every year. They come for the pristine beaches, year-round sunshine, and attractions like Walt Disney World in Orlando.

But although nearly 55 million people came to the United States last year, times were tough for the travel industry. The number of international arrivals declined steadily over the first three quarters of 2009. For Florida, where tourism accounts for more than 20 percent of the economy, the drop off was serious.

Danielle Courtney from the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau says, while both foreign and domestic visitors to the city declined in 2009, the drop in international arrivals was felt more than numbers would indicate. "We have about three million international visitors a year. The difference is they make up about seventeen percent of our spending because they stay a little bit longer, they spend a little bit more," she said.

A rebound is expected in 2010, but the US government predicts a shift in the makeup of foreign visitors, with arrivals from Asia and South America growing by double digits. Brazil, India and China are expected to lead the pack.

The number of visits from Western European countries is expected to remain stagnant.

Richard Foglesong, at Rollins College, studies tourism in Florida. He attributes the change to slower predicted growth in the West compared to emerging economies.

"It's part of the problem of the entertainment and tourist industry that you are so dependent upon a buoyant economy, because one of the first things that people cut is their discretionary leisure spending," Foglesong said.

Rudi Van Rooyen and Philippa Smit from South Africa decided to take a holiday this year in Florida. Van Rooyen says many South Africans still feel able to take foreign vacations because the economy is relatively stable. "With the American economy taking a dip, obviously the entire world suffers a little bit. But there was never any panic like there was here," he said.

But many Europeans at this tourist information center in Orlando say they are not surprised that fewer people from their countries are choosing to visit the U.S..

"We have been hit really hard by the recession and I think that probably has got a lot to do with it," says British tourist Sue Paige.

Meanwhile, with global growth expected to top four percent in 2010 compared to a decline of .6 percent in 2009, industry leaders in the United States say they are optimistic that the total number of foreign visitors will start to grow.