USTA’s 6-month LTI indicates that total U.S. travel volume is expected to grow around 2.2 percent through April 2019. Domestic travel is expected to lead the growth at 2.4 percent, while international travel growth is expected to decelerate over the same period.

TRAVEL TO AND within the U.S. saw more growth in October, but dark clouds are on the horizon for the industry from fears that international visits will continue to slow, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s latest Travel Trends Index. However, American athletic teams may offer a remedy to those concerns.

U.S. travel grew 3.2 percent in October over the same time last year, according to the index, the 106th consecutive month of expansion. International inbound travel also grew, 2.4 percent over the same time last year, but that is slower than the previous month’s growth rate and USTA’s Leading Travel Index indicates that part of the market will continue to slow through April.

USTA expressed similar concerns after its September version of the index was released.

“A worrying trend of deceleration has taken root in the second half of the year,” said USTA Senior Vice President for Research David Huether. “Weakening global economic conditions, combined with rising trade tensions and a strengthening dollar, will continue to spell trouble for the international segment.”

Domestic travel, both business and leisure, saw increases in October, leading to 2.4 percent growth on that side of the market. Even there, however, USTA cautions that heightened market volatility and rising trade tensions could cut into business travel, which has been leading growth in the domestic sector.

At the same time, USTA President and CEO Roger Dow suggested in a recent article he wrote for Worth.com that U.S. sports organizations’ expansion into overseas markets can improve the international travel numbers. Social media and more viewing options have broken down barriers to sports fandom, Dow said, and that means foreign sports fans may be more likely to come to the U.S. to see their favorite team play an American counterpart.

For example, more than 16,000 Chinese fans attended a preseason NBA game recently in Shanghai and the Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers, and NBA teams have played 26 games in China, building a substantial fan base, Dow said.

“The U.S. travel industry can also benefit from increased Chinese interest in the NBA,” he said. “China is the third-largest source market for all overseas visitation to the U.S., and Chinese visitor spending was among the highest of all international visitors in 2017—nearly $6,700 per trip.”

The NFL also has been expanding overseas, playing at London’s Wembley Stadium and Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. Enthusiasm for American football in the United Kingdom alone has grown markedly since 2007, Dow said, and the NFL now estimates it has 13 million fans in the UK.

“Notably, the UK is also the largest overseas inbound travel market to the U.S.,” Dow said. “There are more than 20 direct routes from London’s Heathrow Airport to NFL team cities. U.S. travel exports to the UK accounted for 7.5 percent of all travel exports to overseas countries in 2017.”

This increase in sports tourism may help reverse the decline in the U.S. share of the global long-haul market, Dow said. “Destinations, attractions, hotels, restaurants and other businesses can net serious gains through increased sports tourism, and our leagues are doing the entire U.S. economy an enormous service by moving to capture the trend.”