Tuesday, January 16, 2007

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Where the foreign tourists are

Virginia Postrel has a great column in the Atlantic Monthly about the decline and fall of airline glamour. Go check it out -- if for no other reason than to admire a writer's ability to justify someone paying for her to fly from Los Angeles to London in Virgin Atlantic’s “Upper Class” cabin.

In a follow-up post, however, Postrel makes a rather curious assertion:

I suspect that The Guardian's audience is not as well traveled as they think they are. Outside the major cities in the United States, for instance, the only foreign tourists you usually find are Germans, who will go just about anywhere and rent RVs to do it. How many Guardian readers have driven through the desert Southwest or the Blue Ridge?
I've traveled a fair amount in the United States, and my casual empiricism suggests that you'll find quite a lot of foreign tourists in the Southwest. They might not be driving RVs, but they will go there to take in one of the features of the United States that is not quite as common in Europe -- jaw-dropping natural vistas like the Grand Canyon, Garden of the Gods, or Zion National Park. In fact, in my experience, I've bumped into foreign tourists more often at non-urban destinations than urban ones.*

This could be a perceptual bias, so I'd be curious to hear from readers if this is their experience as well.

*If the dollar continues to fall in value, this will change, as even more tourists come to the U.S. for lower consumer prices.

posted by Dan on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM


I found lots of European tourists in the national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, and Banff and Jasper in Canada) when I went through in '92. Most were Germans, but also Brits, Czechs, and others.

posted by: Pan on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

As someone who lives relatively near Yosemite National Park, I can attest that there are large numbers of foreign tourists who visit it on a daily basis. However, they are primarily Japanese and German tourists, not British (so far as I can tell). The West Coast has large numbers of Japanese tourists, many of whom travel from major tourist destination to major tourist destination (we have a bunch here in California) in tour buses. I have no idea why this seems to differ from the way that European tourists tend to take in America, but it is an interesting difference.

posted by: Sisyphus on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

Most of the Brits I know who regularly go out go out to one or other of the top 5 coastal cities, Vegas, or Florida. They don't even do Seattle so much. One of the biggest reasons for Brits being confused about America. A lot of them will take short trips out to see, say, the Grand Canyon, but while I was in Sierra Vista, I was with Americans.

posted by: James of England on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

As one of those retired travelers who goes to many national parks I can say I've never seen a national park that didn't have a tour bus of Germans or Japanese there. Also have seen Polish on occasion and Russians. Not many Brits (or other members of the UK) but they were the ones in the RVs. Also once talked with two Scottish guys touring the US on motorcycles in Death Valley.

posted by: Ruth H on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

*If the dollar continues to fall in value, this will change, as even more tourists come to the U.S. for lower consumer prices.


"A domestic travel industry organization, the Discover America Partnership, recently issued a report saying that the United States entry process 'has created a climate of fear and frustration that is turning away foreign business and leisure travelers from visiting the United States and damaging America’s image abroad.'"

posted by: Randy Paul on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

Ms. Postrel is over-generalizing without doing any actual research. I meet Asians everywhere there are tourist attractions, as well as many Europeans. I don't encounter a lot of British anywhere, but I would not generalize this phenomenom as "there are no British tourists in the US."

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

Maybe this also has something to do with the density and diversity of cities as opposed to the relatively empty landscapes of the rest of the US?

posted by: Helmut on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

I see few European tourists in the west, but here's another data point.

A few years ago, my wife and I visited Arches National Park during a motorcycle trip. The place was filled with tourists of all stripes, but Americans were conspicuous by their absence as soon as they had to travel more than 200 yards or so from a car. Some of the more spectacular Arches are accessable only on foot, and every one we talked to (or heard conversing) on those trails was a foreign tourist, more than 50% German.

posted by: bud on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

At two Chicago area attractions, each some 20 or
so miles from the loop, there are a large number
of foreign tourists.

A personal data point for the Morton Arboretum
and the Chicago Botanical Garden.

Either that, or Americans are speaking much better
at 'Romace', 'Slavic' or 'Oriental' style languages
than they are typically assumed to be.

posted by: anon on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

A few years back at the Lava Beds National Monument in Modoc County, Calif., surely one of the most off-the-beaten-path spots in the Golden State, we had to rush to the visitors center to get in line for flashlights (to explore the caves) ahead of two (count 'em, two) busloads of Asian tourists.

posted by: Trotsky on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

I would assume that most Russian/Polish speaking people at out of the way tourist sites are not "foreign visitors" but are immigrants touring their new country. I'm not sure Virginia's completely off base. I grew up in the Lakes Region in NH. The only time I can recall encountering foreign tourists there was last year in Canterbury, and sure enough it was Germans in an RV.

posted by: Vanya on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

"I would assume that most Russian/Polish speaking people at out of the way tourist sites are not 'foreign visitors' but are immigrants touring their new country."

Any empirical evidence backing this assumption?

posted by: Arr-squared on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

Here in Seattle there are some British tourists, and some French and German also, but Jpaanese tourists far outnumber them, for a couple of obvious resons - Ichiro being one, and geogrphic proximity another.

Trotsky is right about the Lava beds - that is surely one of California's most remote corners. Not surpsing that the Japanese got there. they seem to have more of an appreciation for natural wonders than Europeans, both on vacation and at home. Asians tend not to need cathedrals to look at to feel that a trip is worth the travel.

Bud, where is Arches National Park? Utah somewhere, I think. Where were those Americans from. If you go to parks in California, you find Americans all over everywhere, even where they shouldn't go. And come to think of it, you don't find big groups of foreign tourists in parks in Washington. They like to walk perhaps, but aren't much on actual hiking.

posted by: Jim on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

Randy, there may be a lobby that's whinging. This is not the same thing as there being a problem. To quote from this Guardian stories, or from any other story in the past few years, transatlantic air travel is growing, and growing fast. As someone who very regularly crosses the Atlantic and quite often gets singled out for additional screening, allow me to assure you that US airports are much more pleasant places to be than those of many other holiday destination.

"I make no apology for adding more raw numbers to this mix, because they are astonishing. World airlines scheduled more than 25,000 flights in October between America and western Europe, an increase of nearly 1,400 in 12 months."

posted by: James of England on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]


It also depends on where you enter the country and where you come from. It's also not merely additional security screenings.

Coming from England, your perspective, with all due respect is somewhat privileged. I've traveled with in-laws from Brazil with valid visas that they got by following the rules and the treatment has been in a word, degrading.

posted by: Randy Paul on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

Although this is far from any sort of representative sample, I've been to most of the major cities in the U.S. and done extensive travelling in the Mid-Atlantic/Blue Ridge mountains, and I don't often see lots of tourists in the Blue Ridge, except for some Australians, but out west I saw lots of Japanese.
However,I can assure that there are plenty of American tourists in Iceland, and France (especially in the normandy/loire valley area) And as such, as an American it gets old running into Americans in a foreign country.
So I feel bad for foreign tourists who come here and continually run into their countrymen. You're here to visit the U.S. not run into Fritz from Berg-Eltz.
Kind of more of a pet-peeve for me than a complaint

posted by: Mitch on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

From the high desert plains of New Mexico, my anecdotal reports are:

1. In Roswell (of UFO fame) there are all sorts of foreign tourists with Germans being the most common. There was a German POW camp near Roswell and a number of former inmates returned with their families in the 1980s and 1990s.

2. In Santa Fe and Taos, there are tourists of all nationalities.

3. In rural areas, my experience is that a foreign tourist is almost always German. The best selling German author of all time is Karl May who wrote numerous books about the American West. Please see this WSJ article from 2001 archived here: http://www.freerepublic.com/forum/a3acb32d32671.htm

posted by: DrewC on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

You're totally right. Being English, bizzarely, gives you privileges in American airports. For some reason, y'all think that we're your allies in the war on terror. We are, but we're allies like the Saudis (a lot of good guys give genuine support, a lot of less good guys are neutral but grumble a fair bit, a few bad guys provide enough justification that it really should be rougher for me and my ilk at airports).

Anyway, if the question was about Latin Americans in the US, I'd have answered slightly differently. Again, the Brazillians I know (and for some reason my LLM had a lot of Brazillians) have tended to be into big cities, but I knew a much more limited strata of society. I don't think I know any Brazillians who aren't attorneys, judges, or spouses of attorneys or judges.

But the question was about the audience of the Guardian. I agree that the Guardian has a big international following, but if you don't count the US, the overwhelming majority of its readers are in the UK. It has a heavy focus on news about the UK. British politics tends to be interesting primarily to a UK audience.

Incidentally, I find that a lot of CBP folk respond much more happily to my Indian connections than my UK ones. I'll admit that I have been known to engage in racial profiling of the dude interviewing me to know whether to bring it up. The problem with Brazillians is that there are many Brazillians who cause trouble for the CBP and not that many Brazillians who work for the CBP. There are a lot of Indians who work for the CBP. So maybe I'm just priviliged all round. Incidentally, I'm guessing there's more Indians who read the Guardian than Brazillians.

posted by: James of England on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]


Bad treatment at at Port of Entry is never acceptable, but you may already know that Brazil is a major source of illegal immigration and that that document fraud is the preferred methood for attempting entry. Then too, the tri-border area is basically beyond the control of any of the three national governments and is known as a staging ground for both Shi'ite and Salafist groups. That doesn't make bad treatment right, just predictable.

posted by: Jim on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

And if my in-laws were Arabic, owned a huge farm, several rental properties (giving every indication that they would return), if this had not happened in 1996 and if they were from the tri-border area, it might be relevant.

posted by: Randy Paul on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

Sorry, that should say did not own a huge farm

posted by: Randy Paul on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

As far as Inspectors at a gate know, all that is no more than assertions and they would be neglignet to take any of it at face value. 1) How do you tell if someone is Arabic from a visual inspection, especially if they already look "Mediterranean"? 2) So they say they own a big farm. Well that just settles it; they could bnever be intending immigrants, ever, could they? 3) They're not from the Tri-border area. They can prove it with documents issued by some incorruptible official in Rio. Got it.

If Brazilains expect to be treated like Europeans when they show up in the US, they might try getting a Euroepan level of control over their illegal migration and their territory.

posted by: Jim on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]


You're wrong again. My in-laws provided plenty of material to indicate that they weren't intending to stay illegally when they got the visa. My father-in-law provided evidence that he had a harvest to bring in within a month after he returned. He provided deeds for the seven rental properties that he owns in one town and five in another. he proivided documentation as to the assessed value of his farm. All of this was provided when they obtained their visas. If they had not provided this they would not have been granted visas, period.

In other words due diligence was done well beforehand. The INS entry agent was being rude because he could.

posted by: Randy Paul on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

I live in Boston and can say with confidence that Boston is constantly inundated with British tourists (as well as Irish, French and German tourists, but to a lesser extent). Many that I've talked to say that it's a much more affordable vacation in the US with the exchange rate strongly in their favor, plus several direct flights daily between London-Boston. They love to come to the States to shop, especially at Banana Republic (which unfortunately still doesn't have any stores in Europe - what an opportunity wasted given its popularity amongst Europeans).

Boston also seems to be increasingly popular amongst Asians (especially because many attend colleges/universities in Boston) as well as affluent Mexicans and South Americans (who also send their children to the colleges/universities in Boston).

I've also vacationed in Vegas and Miami in the past few months, and noticed a tremendous number of Brits in both cities during my trips. I really think the strong Euro/British Pound is a major factor behind why they seem to be vacationing in the US more than ever.

posted by: Han on 01.16.07 at 08:54 AM [permalink]

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