WASHINGTON -- Attempting to stave off potential backlash
resulting from U.S. polices that might seem unfriendly to international
visitors, destinations from California to Virginia are rolling out their
The theme of the U.S. Travel Association's annual IPW
conference here last week, which attracts thousands of mostly foreign travel
buyers and journalists, was "One Big Welcome."
The same name was given to Brand USA's newest campaign,
launched at the event, which CEO Chris Thompson said was part of the national
marketing organization's mission to "market the welcome" of
Paradoxically, the show kicked off the same day that President
Trump took to Twitter to describe his executive order as a "travel ban,"
giving more weight to the need for welcoming messages.
"The lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they
want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN," Trump
tweeted, adding, "The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original
Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted"
to the Supreme Court.
U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow did not pull punches on the issue, saying that Trump's policies could send the wrong message.
"I wonder if many of you are saying, 'I wonder if the
U.S. even welcomes us anymore,' " Dow said. "And on behalf of the
U.S. travel industry, I'd like to give you an answer: We want you to visit
here. We want you here. We want you to send your friends here. We all welcome
The industry has been made uneasy by Trump's "America
first" rhetoric, his continued attempts to institute the travel ban on
citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, Homeland Security's restriction on
large electronic devices such as laptops in carry-on bags from eight Middle
Eastern and North African countries and the administration's decision to
eliminate Brand USA in its latest budget.
So it seemed to surprise many in the audience here when
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said that the U.S. was "open" to
international visitors. "Without security, there will be little travel,"
Ross said. "But let me be clear: America is open for business. America is
open for travel. America is open for international travelers."
He added that the administration "recognizes the power
of travel as an enabling platform for business, a gateway to education and a
bridge to bring people together."
The Visit California booth at IPW 2017. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchilll
When speaking to the news media later, Dow reminded
reporters that Ross' remarks had been approved by the White House and that
Trump was only 149 days into his presidency. He also recalled how when first
elected, President Barack Obama needed to be educated about the value of travel
and tourism. After a series of missteps -- such as making disparaging remarks
about businesses holding meetings in Vegas and suggesting that travel agents
were an all-but-extinct species -- he ended up being "one of the best
presidents ever for travel and tourism."
As for Trump, Dow said, "This president has a tendency
to talk real fast. He didn't send the message, I think, correctly. Yes, we are
concerned about the rhetoric, but we are going to get through to him. He's a
businessman, he's smart, and we will help bring him around."
Positive trends amid concerns
It has so far been difficult to measure the impact of Trump's
actions because actual Commerce Department travel numbers for the first quarter
of 2017 won't come out until the end of the year.
And while several companies have said that internet travel
searches for the U.S. are down, and while the GBTA predicts a loss of more than
$1.3 billion in overall travel-related spending in the U.S. due to political
uncertainty, there have been positive indicators as well: U.S. Travel's Travel
Trends Index found that international travel had grown about 4%, year over
year, in April.
That was seen as an important indicator because U.S. Travel
found that the average international visitor embarks on a trip to the U.S. 56.9
days after his or her initial travel search, making April the first month that
could have shown any real impact from the initial travel ban.
In fact, the strength of the dollar is widely considered the
biggest obstacle to international travel right now.
Destinations are not taking any chances. The destination
marketing organization NYC & Company recently launched an international
communications and marketing initiative called "New York City -- Welcoming
"We were one of the first destinations to come out in
opposition to the travel ban," said Fred Dixon, CEO of NYC & Company. "We
stand in opposition to any impediment to legitimate international travel."
Visit California's #AllDreamsWelcome campaign was created
with the same idea.
"We thought it was important to double down on our
messaging platform about rolling out the red carpet and our sincerity here in
California that nothing's changed, and we are exceptionally humbled and pleased
to have visitors from all over the world," said Caroline Beteta, Visit
California CEO, who said the organization's board in February released an extra
$1 million to support the initiative and get ahead of any possible headwinds
resulting from U.S. policies.
Virginia, whose message has long been "Virginia is for
Lovers," is trying to share that love more broadly by promoting the
A smaller destination, the Aquarium of the Bay in San
Francisco, said it was increasing its outreach to foreign visitors and trying
to create a more welcoming space, for example, by printing brochures in more
"We talk about it a lot," said the aquarium's
marketing and communications director, Jacqueline Murray. She added that during
summer months, international visitors make up 65% of its visitors.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaking at IPW 2017.
"This is the first year we're really focusing on
creating a more inviting and welcoming space for international guests,"
Not every destination is as concerned.
"Anecdotally, we are not hearing any indication that
the international market is being impacted by the Trump administration,"
said Kyle Edmiston, assistant secretary of Louisiana Tourism. "Unless the
policy actually changes, people are not going to stop traveling because of any