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The foreign travel trade balance

The U.S. plays host to many visitors from abroad—for tourism, business, and education. Many Americans travel abroad for the same reasons. How much is spent on this type of travel? FRED’s best option for answering this question is the national income and product accounts (NIPA), which has exports and imports series dedicated to travel. The graph above includes all local expenses related to travel (food, lodging, entertainment, tuition, and business expenses) except the cost of the overseas flight.

The graph shows that the U.S. is a net exporter of travel services, particularly since the most recent recession. Over the past few years, though, the gap seems to be shrinking. Because the graph above uses nominal terms, we repeat it in real terms below using specific deflators for exports and imports of services. The new trend is confirmed and, in fact, appears even stronger.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, search for “trade travel” and you should get four results. Select the ones including education, as they have more-recent data points, and click “Add to Graph.” For the second graph, use the first and go to the “Edit Graph” panel: Add a series by searching for “export deflator.” Select the quarterly series pertaining to only services. Then apply formula a/b*100. Repeat for the imports.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: A646RD3Q086SBEA, A656RD3Q086SBEA, ITMTAEM133S, ITXTAEM133S

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