LAS VEGAS — At the Routes Americas aviation conference here last week, travel- industry lobbying groups took sharply different approaches in addressing president Donald Trump's effort to temporarily ban travel to the U.S. by nationals from seven Muslim countries.
Grabbling the headlines was World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) CEO David Scowsill, who took a strong stand against the ban in a Feb. 14 speech.
"Travel and tourism thrives by breaking down barriers not building them, by making it easier for people to travel not applying blanket bans," Scowsill told attendees.
Citing the nearly decade-long slump in international tourism to the U.S. that followed 9/11, Scowsill said that Trump risks setting the U.S. tourism sector on a path of stagnation if he pushes forward with inward-looking policies. He urged the administration to keep tourism out of politics and said that blanket bans on certain countries won't make Americans safer.
But while Scowsill minced few words in his attack on the travel ban, U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow and IATA vice president for the Americas Peter Cerda offered no opinion on the policy itself in interviews at the Routes conference.
The travel ban, which Trump imposed by executive order on Jan. 27, was scheduled to stop nationals from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days. It is currently suspended under court order, but Trump has said he plans to put forward a revised executive order in the coming days or weeks.
IATA has been critical of the quick-fire way in which the ban was implemented. Trump took the move without giving airlines around the world an opportunity to prepare, sowing chaos at airports.
But Cerda said the internal trade organization for airlines has no plans to either support or oppose the ban itself.
"Every nation is sovereign, and they have the right to apply policies that they see fit," he said.
Dow said U.S. Travel's position would be determined by whether the ban is ultimately shown to have a demonstrable impact on inbound travel to the U.S.
"We're taking a measured look at it," he said. "I think it is important to separate politics from reality. We don't know yet. We're measuring future bookings, future internet searches to see the impact."
Various data points show signs of at least a short-term downturn in travel to the U.S. on the heels of the travel ban.
For example, Hopper, a flight app that tracks GDS searches, found that the number of flight searches for travel from international points of origin to the U.S. was down 17% the week of Jan. 27 compared with the last three weeks of the Obama administration.
Dow, though, said U.S. Travel wants to see if travelers will differentiate between what he called "politics and place."
"You and I may go to China, but we don't agree with their human-rights records and so forth," he said.
Despite the strong stand that he and the WTTC have taken against Trump's travel ban, Scowsill said in an interview at Routes that he was not disappointed with the course of action Dow has taken on the issue.
"His role is to work with the U.S. administration, whichever administration is in power, to make sure that they increase travel and tourism, whether it's jobs or growth, rather than decrease it," Scowsill said. "And that's something they do very well on an ongoing basis."