Data suggests a 'Trump slump' in travel to U.S.

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"We Were Strangers Once Too," a sculpture highlighting the role that immigrants have played in the founding and vibrancy of New York City will be on display in Times Square until March 5.
"We Were Strangers Once Too," a sculpture highlighting the role that immigrants have played in the founding and vibrancy of New York City will be on display in Times Square until March 5.

International flight-booking data released this week confirmed concerns across the travel industry that president Trump's 90-day travel ban on nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries is dealing a significant blow to inbound travel to the U.S.

Following the Jan. 27 ban on travel to the U.S. by nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Syria, net bookings from those seven countries were down 80% between Jan. 28 and Feb. 4, compared with the same period last year, according to flight reservation transactions analyzed by the travel data company ForwardKeys.

ForwardKeys also reported a 6.5% drop in overall international travel to the U.S. for the same period when compared with the equivalent eight-day period the year before.

Meanwhile, Hopper, a flight app that tracks GDS searches in order to analyze fare prices and demand, also found that the number of flight searches for travel from international points of origin to the U.S. -- a key indicator of future travel intent -- was down 17% the week of Jan. 27. Last year, there was only a 1.8% decline during the same time period.

"The data forces a compelling conclusion that Donald Trump's travel ban immediately caused a significant drop in bookings to the USA and an immediate impact on future travel," said Olivier Jager, CEO of ForwardKeys. "This is not good news for the U.S. economy."

Indeed, the Global Business Travel Association estimated that $185 million in business-travel bookings were lost in the week following the institution of the ban.

A federal appeals court upheld a block on the travel ban this week -- it had been halted by a federal judge on Feb. 4, and the Trump administration was appealing the judge's ruling. Nevertheless, destination marketing organizations and travel associations representing members with significant travel dollars on the line have come out in aggressive opposition to the ban, unveiling campaigns aimed at countering the image of America as unwelcoming.

NYC & Company, New York's marketing agency, issued a statement this week that it opposes the travel ban and changed its campaign plans for 2017 in order to clearly communicate a message that "all are welcome," which is the organization's new campaign slogan. In so doing, NYC & Company made it clear that it is opposed to Trump's executive order on this issue.

"This is big business and jobs for a lot of people," said Fred Dixon, NYC & Company's president and CEO, adding that New York's $60 billion tourism industry is the city's fifth largest economic driver. "We've worked so hard over the last however many years to make sure that the United States is seen as welcoming. ... Great progress had been made, and now we are very concerned that all of that is in jeopardy."

Dixon said that while NYC & Company does not yet have any numbers that show a slump in inbound tourism in response to Trump's ban, there are some early indicators that the policy could have some serious negative consequences for New York's tourism industry.

For one, he pointed to a New York Times article that indicated New York had lost a bid to host the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations in 2019 as a result of the ban.

"People are choosing not to bring their business here," Dixon said. "This is a critical time, and the world is a big place and a lot of people want that business."

He also said that a popular German lifestyle magazine, which he did not name, had in defiance of the ban decided not to run features about the U.S. He also referred to a recent opinion piece in the Toronto Star encouraging Canadians to boycott travel to the U.S.

Such indications came on top of the challenges of dealing with a strong U.S. dollar, raising concern that the ban could have some real and lasting impact on the tourism economy.

Visit Seattle released an emotionally tinged video about mayor Ed Murray having asked residents on Feb. 1 to shine a light in support of immigrants and refugees, in an effort to highlight the fact that Seattle welcomes all visitors. The Adventure Travel Trade Association last week also issued a statement asserting, "The travel ban, based on nationality, is contrary to the principles of freedom of travel and goodwill promoted by international tourism and will needlessly damage the tourism sector by depressing benefits in terms of economic growth, international relations and job creation." 

ASTA and its members are equally concerned that the travel ban could have a ripple effect that spreads beyond just inbound travel to the U.S. According to the Society, the ban has threatened to disrupt business across the travel industry.

In a call with the media earlier this week, ASTA senior vice president of government affairs and communications Eben Peck said, "The way [the travel ban] was implemented and all the confusion that it created and the headlines it created are having an impact, it's clear, beyond people coming into [the U.S.] from just these seven countries. ... It's having a chilling effect on the travel industry generally."

During the call, ASTA also shared anecdotes from members about concerned clients. Amie O'Shaughnessy, founder and CEO of Ciao Bambino in Oakland, Calif., said an Indian client with a green card had canceled a trip to Europe on the advice of his attorney. And Julie Imgrund, president of Bellevue Travel in Bellevue, Neb., said one client who is a citizen and holds a U.S. passport was reluctant to leave the country regardless.

"Uncertainty is bad for the travel industry, and I think it's undeniable that this created a lot of uncertainty," Peck said.

As for the flight data, not all of it indicated a doomsday scenario for inbound travel to the U.S. For example, Hopper found that searches for inbound U.S. flights bottomed on Jan. 28, the day after Trump signed the travel ban order, but have since moved closer to preinauguration levels. And while ForwardKeys found that bookings from Northern Europe, Western Europe, Southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific to the U.S. were down, bookings from Central and Eastern Europe and from the Americas to the U.S. were up.

Senior editors Jamie Biesiada and Robert Silk contributed to this report.

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