Europe experienced a record year for U.S. tourists in 2007, which is remarkable when you consider that the dollar is weak and fuel costs are high.
Europe hosted 13,251,785 Americans last year, breaking the record set in 2000, says the European Travel Commission.
Spain was apparently the biggest gainer last year among the largest Western European countries. About 1,123,000 Americans visited the country—a 22 percent jump from the previous year. Spain's neighbor Portugal also shone, with 244,000 American visitors, an increase of 20 percent—thanks partly to more flights from the U.S.
France broke a record, with 3.27 million American visitors last year, an increase of 3 percent over 2006. Germany recorded its second best year for U.S. tourism, after 2000, with 4.6 million hotel stays.
Austria and the Netherlands both reported slight decreases in American visitors last year. However, 2006 was the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth in Austria and the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth in Holland, two huge boons for tourism in those countries, so the drop was not a surprise to tourism officials.
Figuring out which country was the most popular is a tricky thing. Here's why:
Ireland displays its data right on its tourism website, but Britain won't release its official numbers until July. Italy only gives estimates, while Holland merely provides numbers for the first nine months of the year. And Germany and Belgium have a different system for counting tourists altogether—they go by the number of nights that U.S. visitors spend in their hotels rather than the number of American visitors who pass through customs.
From the other side of things, the Travel Industry Association keeps track of the number of international visitors to the U.S. on its website. The number of tourists was up across the board in last year compared with 2006. China made the biggest jump, with tourism to that country jumping 10 percent, to 350,600 visitors.
Despite the ever-worsening U.S. economy, most European officials whom I spoke with were confident that their countries would continue to draw high numbers of American tourists this year.