Foreign visitors to US hit record in summer-report

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WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) A record number of foreigners visited the United States this summer and spent unprecedented amounts of money, the U.S. Commerce Department said.

''These robust summer travel numbers highlight the vitality of the American travel industry,'' U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in a statement applauding the role international tourism plays in boosting U.S. economic growth.

Six years after the Sept. 2001 attacks put a big dent in visits to the United States, the weak U.S. dollar has made foreign travel in the United States a better bargain and helped to bring overseas travelers back.

Foreign visits, which hit a record 51.2 million in 2000, dropped to 41.2 million in 2003 when the Bush administration angered many people around the world with its decision to invade Iraq.

Since then, foreign visits have climbed steadily and are projected at a record of almost 54 million in 2007, up 5 percent from last year, the Commerce Department said.

The 14.3 million visitors who came to the United States this summer spent a record .7 billion, 14 percent more than in summer 2006. Visitors' spending exceeded previous records in each of the three months from June to August.

International visitors have spent .4 billion in the United States during the first eight months of 2007, up 11 percent from the same period last year and on track to surpass the record set in 2006 of 7.9 billion, the department said.

Travel from Europe and other overseas destinations took the biggest hit after September 2001, with visits from Canada and Mexico showing much less decline.

This summer's tally showed a 16 percent rise in visitors from Western Europe, a 12 percent increase from the United Kingdom and an 8 percent gain from Eastern Europe.

Visits from Asia increased 6 percent in June, July and August with gains of 37 percent and 30 percent respectively for India and China, the Commerce Department said.

REUTERS DKS RN0606

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