International Arrivals to the United States - Fourth Quarter and Annual 2003
International Arrivals to the United States For December, Fourth Quarter, and Annual 2003

The U.S. welcomed 40.4 million international visitors in 2003. This was a decline of four percent compared to 2002 visitation of 41.9 million. Five of the top 25 visitor markets registered gains – the United Kingdom (up three percent), Italy (up one percent), Spain (up five percent), India (up six percent) and Sweden (up four percent).

Total international arrivals to the U.S. began on a positive note in 2003. This was not a surprise given that January 2002 was in deep decline following the 9/11 attacks. However, 2003 brought challenges of its own - the Iraqi War (commencing 3/19), SARS (March/April), and airline capacity constraints contributed to eight months of contraction over the period February through the September of 2003. The rate of contraction has generally been declining. In other words, there has been a subtle lessening of the rate of decline since the first quarter. (see graph)

To some degree, a shift in the occurrence of two major holiday periods, year/year, accounted for what appear to be significant changes in March and November. For example, the “trough” in March was partially offset by gains in April due to the different dates of Easter (March 31, 2002 vs. April 20, 2003). Also, the Sunday following Thanksgiving 2003 fell on November 30, contributing to the “peak”, whereas in 2002 it occurred on December 1st.


The U.S. accepted 3.0 million total international visitors in December, a one percent increase over December 2002. This marked the third consecutive month of positive growth in 2003 and contributed to a 4th quarter increase of three percent. The latter quarter was an improvement over the first three quarters that dropped eight percent, nine percent and three percent, respectively. As mentioned above, the annual downturn of four percent, accounted for 1.5 million fewer arrivals this year.

The decline in overseas arrivals, excluding Canada and Mexico, was the major contributor to the overall annual decline in international tourism. It was also the driver in a 4th quarter “recovery”. Overseas arrivals totaled 1.7 million in December, up over four percent. Three consecutive months of positive growth contributed to a three percent increase for the 4th quarter. The last quarter topped the first three quarters which dropped, eight percent, fourteen percent and four percent, respectively.


Travel to the U.S. in 2003 declined from all world regions except Western Europe. Arrivals from the region totaled 8.3 million for the year, up nearly one percent. Visitation from Western Europe grew four percent in December and five percent in the fourth quarter, a four-point improvement over a positive third quarter. The U.K. (see country synopsis, below) proved to the major driver in the region.

Asian arrivals numbered 5.0 million in 2003, a decline of 12 percent for the year. However, a strong performance in December, up eight percent, contributed to a two percent gain in the fourth quarter. The yearend results significantly topped the third quarter arrivals, which dropped 8.6 percent, and were a major improvement over the second quarter (down 33.6 percent). Japan was the major driver in this region (see country synopsis, below).

Arrivals from South America continued to register the largest overall decline in 2003, down 16 percent. However, arrivals dropped by only three percent in December, the smallest monthly decline all year. While the fourth quarter declined four percent there has been progressive improvement over the previous quarters – the third quarter declined 13 percent, second quarter down 22 percent and a 27 percent decline in the first quarter. Venezuela has been a driver in the regional decline with chronic double-digit declines most of the year contributing to a 28 percent decline. Brazilian arrivals, on the other hand, while down 14 percent in 2003, registered strong growth in the fourth quarter, up 15 percent! Arrivals from Argentina and Colombia, while down eight percent and 13 percent, respectively, for the year, have also been improving since the second quarter.

The remaining world regions continued to show improvement in the fourth quarter that contributed to the final percentage change figures for the year.

Arrivals 2003/02 from: December Fourth Quarter Annual
Eastern Europe 2.4% 4.6% -2.9%
Middle East -1.9% 6.4% -7.3%
Africa 5.5% 3.4% -2.1%
Oceania 10.5% 6.7% -0.8%
Central America -3.1% -2.4% -6.8%
Caribbean 6.4% 4.8% -5.2%

Top Visitor Markets:

In 2003, 12.7 million Canadians visited the U.S., a two percent decline from 2002. Arrivals were also down by two percent in December, and yet the fourth quarter increased by three percent due to a strong November. The fourth quarter positive performance exceeded the first three quarters that declined by one percent, seven percent and three percent, respectively. Canadian arrivals by air in 2003 also increased, by one percent, registering 4.17 million arrivals compared to 4.13 air arrivals in 2002.



In 2003, 9.7 Mexicans visited the U.S. A minimum of 3.8 million of those visitors traveled into the U.S. ‘interior’, as documented via the DHS Form I-94. This was a decline of two percent from 2002. Arrivals were down by five percent in December, however the fourth quarter increased by one percent due to the contribution of a strong November. The quarterly results were rather erratic earlier in the year, i.e., first quarter was down 27 percent while second quarter increased by over 19 percent (partially explained by the “Easter effect”). Also, air arrivals from Mexico in 2003 contracted 5 percent to register 1.36 million passenger arrivals, compared to 1.44 million passenger arrivals in 2002.



United Kingdom:

Annual visitation to the U.S. totaled 3.9 million, up three percent from 2002. The U.K. was the only top inbound market to show annual growth in 2003. Arrivals grew by three percent in December and five percent in the fourth quarter.



A continuing sluggish economy (1 percent GDP growth), combined with the effects of the Iraqi war and the awareness of SARS affecting other Asian countries, negatively impacted the number of Japanese arrivals to the United States from March through October 2003.

Arrivals from Japan increased by 11 percent in December contributing to an increase of three percent in the fourth quarter, the only positive quarter in 2003. Arrivals totaled 3.2 million for the year, down thirteen percent from 2002, however a five point improvement from third quarter.



German visitation, registered at 1.2 million arrivals, declined one percent for 2003. For November and December, arrivals increased by 10 percent and four percent, respectively, contributing to a fourth quarter gain of five percent. Strong growth in German visitation was anticipated during the fourth quarter due to findings in the U.S. Department of Commerce Travel Barometer program.



Arrivals to the U.S. from France totaled 689 thousand throughout 2003, a decline of six percent for the year. The fourth quarter ended down two percent, however it was an improvement over the second and third quarters that declined 16 percent and seven percent, respectively.

South Korea:
In 2003 over 617 thousand travelers visited the U.S. from South Korea, down three percent from 2002. Traffic crested in the third quarter, up four percent. Even though the year ended on an upbeat, with December inbound up three percent, October and November declines of 11 percent and 16 percent, respectively – due to a number of inter-related reasons - pushed the fourth quarter down eight percent.

During 2003 more than 408 thousand Italian travelers entered the U.S., up one percent from 2002. December arrivals were up eight percent, contributing to a seven percent increase in the fourth quarter.
The last five months of the year showed positive growth, three of which were in double-digits.

Australian visitors to the U.S. totaled over 405 thousand, about the same as in 2002. Strong arrivals in November and December, up 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively, contributed to a nine percent growth in fourth quarter. The final quarter of 2003 was the first quarter to show positive growth during the year.

The U.S. hosted 374 thousand visitors from the Netherlands in 2003, down three percent. Arrivals in December and the fourth quarter were down three percent and one percent, respectively. The only quarter with positive results was the third quarter, up one percent.

Over 349 thousand travelers came to the U.S. from Brazil during 2003, down 14 percent. However, the fourth quarter had strong traffic, up 15 percent, with December up 17 percent, the third consecutive month of double-digit increases. Traffic began to turn positive in August/September, reversing a trend of double-digit decreases starting in January. The Brazilian Travel Barometer had previously estimated gains in travel demand for the third and fourth quarter of 2003. It is noteworthy that 2003 arrivals were significantly down from 1997 when the U.S. accepted over 940 thousand visitors from Brazil.

Arrivals totaled over 284 thousand in 2003, a decline of 28 percent for the year. December was ‘only’ down by 8 percent, after chronic double-digit declines during each of the preceding months of the year.

Spanish visitation totaled 284 thousand visitors during 2003, up five percent. Strong inbound traffic during the fourth quarter, each month in double-digits, contributed to a 14 percent gain. This came on the heels of a six percent increase in the third quarter, which outpaced the previous two quarters.

Over 280 thousand Colombians visited the U.S. in 2003, down 13 percent. Improvement was noted from the first quarter, down 27 percent, through yearend with fourth quarter down three percent.

Arrivals from India totaled over 272 thousand for 2003, up six percent from 2002. Historically, Indian visitation is at a relatively high level, down less than one percent from the 2000 peak.

PRC & Hong Kong:
The U.S. welcomed over 271 thousand visitors from the PRC/Hong Kong, down 25 percent from 2002. The year started out on a positive note, with January up one percent. Successive months suffered mostly double-digit declines through October. The severe impact from SARS was most felt in the second quarter, down 57 percent!) However, in November and December arrivals posted two percent and four percent gains, respectively, bringing the fourth quarter in at negative three percent.

For 2003, the PRC decline was 30 percent while Hong Kong was down a lesser amount, 16 percent.


In addition to tracking arrivals to the country, on a monthly basis, OTTI also has data on arrivals for over 40 ports of entry. A brief analysis is presented on the top 15 ports for overseas arrivals in 2003.

  • Arrivals at the top 15 ports of entry continued to account for 85 percent of all overseas arrivals in the January-December 2003 time frame. Total overseas arrivals, year-to-date, as reported above, were down six percent approximating the decline at the top port level. The top three ports of entry (New York JFK, Miami and Los Angeles) accounted for 37 percent of all overseas arrivals to the U.S.
  • Ports registering declines of less than six percent were Chicago O’Hare and Boston.
  • Top airports that posted annual increases in arrivals were Orlando and Sanford, FL, and Newark. New York JFK registered flat growth for the year.
  • Agana, Guam continued to register the largest contraction, at 19 percent, however improved by seven basis points from November year-to-date.
  • New York JFK has been the overall leading port of entry for 2002 and 2003. Chicago O’Hare held onto fifth position in 2003 while Atlanta moved back into ninth position, ahead of Washington, D.C. Dulles. Detroit edged out Sanford to remain in position thirteen and the latter displaced Houston for the 14th spot.

For more information on the top ports, please visit

Within the full report issued by OTTI using this database, arrivals are tracked for the top 40 ports by all world regions and 30 countries.

FYI, regarding Overseas Travelers to the U.S. in 2003, from OTTI’s Summary of International Travel to the U.S. Report:

  • Based on visa type, 18 percent were business, 79 percent were pleasure travelers and three percent were here on student visas. Travel by those holding business visas was down nine percent from 2002. Those holding pleasure and student visas were down five percent (Table D.2)
  • Average age of travelers was 39.2 years, up slightly from 2002
  • Mode of Travel: Only one percent of Overseas travelers arrived by ‘sea’ (Table E.2)
  • Destination most indicated as first intended address, Florida with 3.6 million visitors

Further Information:

The above analysis is a synopsis of the world regions and the top markets generating arrivals to the United States. Arrival statistics for the top countries and world regions may be accessed on-line from the monthly section of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Travel and Tourism Industries (OTTI) web site at:

Once on this page, there are numerous links to tables that provide arrivals for the top arrival markets to the United States. Please take a look at each of the links available.

The monthly Summary of International Travel to the U.S. report has approximately 30 tables that provide data on monthly and year-to-date arrivals to the country. The report provides data on approximately 90 countries each month and over 40 ports-of-entry. Numerous breakouts are provided by world region, countries and for the port tables as well. To learn more about this program, please go to:

If you would like to purchase the monthly international arrival reports for 2003, please go to: