Foreign visitors to U.S. hit record in 2011

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 22, 2012 6:59am EDT

A statue of Abraham Lincoln greeting a tourist in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, March 20, 2012.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A statue of Abraham Lincoln greeting a tourist in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, March 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More foreign tourists than ever came to the United States last year, and they spent a record amount along the way, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

The number of foreign tourists hit a record 62 million last year, up 4 percent from 2010, the department said in a statement.

Foreign visitors spent a record $153 billion in 2011 on U.S. travel and tourism-related goods and services, up from more than $130 billion the year before, the statement said.

Canada was by far the No. 1 source for foreign visitors at 21 million, followed by Mexico at 13.4 million. Britain was in the third spot at almost 4 million.

"We will do everything we can to boost this industry so that we can keep growing our economy and creating more jobs," Commerce Secretary John Bryson said in the statement.

The Commerce Department said the large number of foreign tourists made travel and tourism the No. 1 U.S. service export.

The department did not give a reason for the rise in foreign visitors.

Tourism spending by domestic and international visitors combined rose 8.1 percent last year to $1.2 trillion.

President Barack Obama said in January he was taking measures to boost U.S. travel and tourism. Bryson will make promoting U.S. tourism an element of his trade mission to India next week, the statement said.

(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)