When Donald Trump became president of the United States back in January 2017, plenty in the travel industry were making predictions about how the radical shift in American politics would impact upon tourism to the country. This was due to a number of factors. Not least the new president's xenophobic rhetoric and his intention to adopt policies restricting the rights of people depending on their country of origin and religion.
This, as we've pointed out in previous posts, is an example of just how incongruous Trump is with the modern travel industry. It was always going to be fascinating to observe how an industry based on openness, tolerance and community would respond to the new America.
And now we have some data to work with. It appears as though there's been a significant Trump slump. Since the reality TV star came into office, international tourism to the States has dropped. Here are the details...
Despite some positive noises coming out of the U.S. Travel Association in recent months concerning the expected number of tourists into the States from abroad, they have now put forward a “substantially more pessimistic assessment” of travel into the US. They've gone so far as to put out a warning of “major storm clouds for the inbound international travel market.”
According to the latest Travel Trends Index, a revised analysis of recent inbound travel suggests that "international visitation—initially found to have grown consistently this year—actually declined in four of the seven months for which data is so far available."
The contractions were most apparent in February (-6.8 percent) and March (-8.2 percent). Travel economists have suggested that even the slight uptick in April is likely down to the Easter holiday falling in that month this year.
U.S. Travel Association Senior Vice President for Research David Huether said the results were in line with what the organisation expected.
“We kept projecting drops in international visitation, and they kept not materializing,” Huether said. “However, we recently were able to access new data inputs for the TTI to give us an even more comprehensive picture, and sure enough, the international travel segment has been far weaker than what was initially shown.”
In case you're wondering how accurate the data is, the TTI is prepared for US. Travel by the research firm Oxford Economics. 'U.S. Travel and Oxford routinely seek to identify available data sources that add to the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the index. The data sets added to the latest TTI calculations came from IATA, OAG and other tabulations of international inbound travel to the U.S., and resulted in the downward revision of TTI results from earlier in the year.'
Currently, travel and tourism are responsible for one in nine American jobs. Inbound international travel is actually the No. 2 overall U.S. export. With that in mind, it's no surprise that the head of US Travel believes the American economy can't afford this troubling downward trend to continue.
"The international travel market is ultra-competitive, and the U.S. is falling behind," said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. "Fortunately, there are levers the Trump administration can pull to help right the ship—continue the Brand USA tourism marketing organization, and protect policies that enable international travel to the U.S., such as Open Skies aviation agreements and the Visa Waiver Program.
“Inbound travel to the U.S. already went through one ‘lost decade’ after 9/11,” Dow said. “It took a sustained national policy effort to return to the pre-9/11 level of travel exports, which only happened last year. If we don’t want to give back all of that progress, the time to act is now.”
In the statement from the U.S. Travel Association there is no mention of the reason for the declines in international visitors.
Interestingly, domestic markets for business and leisure travel are performing well and seeing growth from last year.
“Upbeat consumer attitudes and solid labor market conditions continue to support the domestic travel market,” said Adam Sacks, president of Oxford Economics’ Tourism Economics group.
“However, stagnant wages and the recalibration of expectations regarding the Trump administration’s campaign pledges pose risks to consumer and business sentiment. Additionally, the President’s continued rhetoric and policies weigh heavily on the international inbound market outlook.”
According to USA Today, it's estimated that 700,000 fewer international tourists arrived in the U.S. during the January 2017- March 2017 period compared to same period last year.
As you might expect given Trump's rhetoric and attempts to enforce a Muslim ban, the steepest drops were from the Middle East and Africa, regions that sent almost 25% fewer visitors than just twelve months before.
European arrivals were also down by around 10%, with 2.6 million visitors representing a 300,000 decline during the first three months of 2017. Again unsurprisingly, arrivals from Mexico were down 7% -nearly 300,000.
Overall, the 15.8 million international tourists during the first quarter were down 4%, or 697,791 visitors.
This decline has hit US business, too. That many lost tourists represent a .7 billion reduction in spending, according to an estimate by Tourism Economics of Wayne.
Read more: Why Tourism and Politics Go Hand in Hand
It's impossible to pinpoint how much the decline in international visitors to the USA is because of President Trump. But we can safely assume that his rhetoric and actions have played a part in the market contractions.
Some of the President's attempted legislation, such as the Muslim ban, had a marked impact on business travel into the US, as we reported back in February. However, consistent decreases in international tourist numbers are likely to be the result of atmosphere, not failed legislation.
Trump led a divisive campaign that caused controversy among liberal Americans, minorities, and travelers the world over, including smears at Mexicans and disabled people. And his actions in office have done little to repair the damage. The USA is as divided as it has been for decades, and the resulting atmosphere is not one that international tourists are keen to engage with.
The sense of a nation in turmoil has similarities with scenes in the UK, where the Brexit vote has led to a change in tourist attitudes on the European continent. According to research published by Travelzoo, a third of travelers from Germany, Italy and Spain – and a quarter from France – confirmed that they would be less inclined to travel to the UK in the event of a Leave vote. Four in 10 respondents from EU countries also worry that Brexit could make UK holidays more expensive.
The latter has not quite turned out to be true, since the plummeting pound has actually caused a boost to the UK tourism market. However, the feelings of Europeans is clear: Brexit, just like Trump, suddenly made the UK seem like a destination that was unwelcoming and less appealing.