Britain beats France, but Americans visit Mexico most

Chacala, Mexico, is a beach town about 60 miles north of Puerto Vallarta on the nation's Pacific Coast. American travelers made 20.3 million trips to Mexico in 2012, a U.S. government tally found.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

It’s Mexico, cruising to victory by a mile despite a limp. Then comes Canada, followed by the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic and France.

No, these are not early Winter Olympic results. These are the U.S. travelers’ five top foreign destinations, as measured by a new survey of travel data from 2012.

In that year, U.S. residents made 20.3 million trips to Mexico (mostly by land); 11.9 million trips to Canada (again, mostly by land); 2.5 million trips to the U.K., 2.3 million to the Dominican Republic and 2 million to France. These numbers come from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office, which surveys Americans on their travels abroad and surveys foreigners on their travels here.


Every winter, the office releases results and we get a glimpse (with a year’s delay) of the international traveling set’s fluctuating tastes. Among other findings of the December 2013 report:

Overseas travel by Americans rose by 5% to 28.5 million in 2012 – faster than travel to Canada or Mexico. Over the same period, U.S. residents’ travel to Canada rose 3% while travel to Mexico fell 1%. American trips to Mexico were down slightly in 2011 and 2012. The annual figure has hovered between 19 million and 21 million since 2004.

After four years of slumping in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, American travel abroad is again on the upswing. U.S. residents made 60.7 million foreign trips in 2012, up from 59.2 million the year before. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of U.S. residents traveling abroad fell from 64.1 million to 59.2 million.

After many years of being a net exporter of tourists, the U.S. since 2011 has been taking in more travelers than it sends out. In 2012, the U.S. counted 66.6 million incoming foreign travelers, a figure that’s been growing steadily since 2009, when the number was 55.1 million.

After the U.K., Dominican Republic and France, U.S. residents favored this overseas destinations: Italy (up 14% to 1.9 million); Germany (up 7% to 1.7 million); Jamaica (up 2% to 1.5 million); China (up 3% to 1.1 million); and Spain (up 5% to 1.1 million).

Among countries with fewer than 1 million American arrivals, visits from U.S. travelers in 2012 rose 44% for Japan (which may reflect recovery from the earthquake and tsunami that struck there in March 2011). Visits from the U.S. in that year jumped 27% for Ireland, 17% for the Philippines, 18% for South Korea; 19% for Colombia; and 21% for Austria.


U.S travel in 2012 to Hong Kong fell 7%. U.S. travel to Israel fell 3%, and U.S. travel to Taiwan fell 11%.

After spending an estimated $6 billion to host the FIFA World Cup soccer competition in 2010, South Africa saw visits from the U.S. fall from 285,000 in 2010 to 216,000 in 2011. In 2012, the figure rose to 228,000.