Travel ban II better planned, but still coloring foreign visitors' attitudes

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President Trump on Monday signed a revised executive order for a 90-day ban on travel from six countries in the Middle East and Africa.
President Trump on Monday signed a revised executive order for a 90-day ban on travel from six countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Early industry reaction to president Trump's revised travel ban was muted compared with the first go-round, with the executive order getting points for clarity and advanced notice.

Even so, it drew criticism for its lack of a welcoming message to legitimate visitors.

The biggest sign of dissent in the days following the March 6 order came from Hawaii, the first state to file a lawsuit over the second ban, partly because it would harm the state's travel industry. This week, Oregon, Washington, New York and Massachusetts said they would follow suit. Lawsuits by Washington and Virginia led to the first travel ban being overturned.

The revised ban, effective March 16, bars the issuance of new visas for people from six predominantly Muslim countries. Unlike the first iteration, it does not apply to travelers who already have visas, permanent U.S. residents, or dual-nationals traveling with U.S. passports. The new order also omits Iraq from the list of affected countries. The potential impact from the revised ban on inbound travel to the U.S. raised concerns for tour operators and inbound travel groups, but much less so than the initial order did.

Lisa Simon, executive director of the International Inbound Travel Association (IITA), said that while the latest travel ban was an improvement over the first, in some ways the damage had already been done.

"The January travel ban already had an effect on the perceptions of many potential U.S. visitors," Simon said. "Some international operators are telling IITA members that their customers just don't feel welcomed by the U.S. We are also seeing results from several early studies [conducted] by destinations and research firms [suggesting] that the January ban is having a negative impact on inbound visitation, which is concerning to those servicing international markets."

Simon said that U.S. immigration and entry policies coupled with the strong value of the U.S. dollar are expected to have a negative impact on travel to the U.S., but it is not expected by many international operators to have a lasting negative impact on the U.S. as a choice vacation destination.

"Inbound operators remain cautious about the short-term impact, but the U.S. travel industry is resilient, and we're optimistic that these markets will continue to grow in the long term," Simon said.

Michael Potscher, chief marketing officer for TourRadar, an online tour operator review-and-booking site, also expressed confidence that leisure travelers would continue coming to the U.S. He said that the revised travel ban "is not seeing the same European media coverage as the original."

Simon agreed with the U.S. Travel Association that the administration should make it clear that the U.S. continues to welcome all travelers.

"We'd like to see that clearly communicated by the [Trump] administration," Simon said. "We have to be united behind the message that the U.S. is both safe and welcoming to international visitors."

U.S. Travel felt that such a message was sorely missing in the language of the new order and "probably would've gone a long way toward soothing travel markets," said Jonathan Grella, U.S. Travel's executive vice president of public affairs.

"Perceptions matter," Grella said. "And reputational fallout can affect market share. It really was a bit of a missed opportunity there. And with all the other things they took great care to get right this time, that was one 't' that was not crossed -- and I guess that 't' stands for travel."

Grella said the administration had ample warning and information about the need to reassure travelers around the world.

"This time it would have been beneficial to speak to those people, to folks in Canada or Europe who were left with a bad taste in their mouths," he said. "That was not central to the message -- stating not just who is no longer welcome but who remains welcome."

ASTA said member feedback about clients canceling trips after the first ban had dropped off with the second one.

"I think points should be given here for clarity and for the presence of a lead time," said Eben Peck, ASTA's senior vice president of government affairs. "The process was definitely better this time around."

Peck said that ASTA and its members feel it's important for the health of the travel industry not to "get freaked out." 

"We promote travel agents, but we promote travel, as well, so we want to be measured in our public stance about this," he said. "If this starts to have a real meaningful, negative impact, then we're going to get more vocal on this."

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) also commended the revised ban for clarity but said it would monitor its effects.

The GBTA last month said that $185 million in business travel bookings had been lost because of the original travel ban.

"The specific exemption for legal permanent residents, dual nationals and current visa holders will help mitigate confusion for the international traveling public," said GBTA executive director Michael McCormick.

Groups representing airlines, which got caught in the chaos of the original ban's surprise rollout, reacted positively to the 10-day lead time that the administration wrote into the new order.

IATA spokesman Perry Flint said, "We welcome the advanced notice and coordination with the industry before the effective date of the travel restrictions."

Airlines for America expressed a similar sentiment.

"We appreciate the administration's clear guidance on the scope of the executive order and establishment of a timeline for implementation to avoid significant impact to our air-travel system and the customers we serve," spokesman Vaughn Jennings said.
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Michelle Baran, Jamie Biesiada and Robert Silk contributed to this report.

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