Ban on inbound travel from Europe baffles and disheartens industry

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a ban on most travel from Europe to the U.S. in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a ban on most travel from Europe to the U.S. in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19.

A stunned travel industry on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of sowing heightened fear and confusion over the Covid-19 virus with his ban on most European travel to the U.S., which officials said will only further devastate an already crumbling global travel economy.

USTOA CEO Terry Dale said he was “surprised and discouraged” by the administration’s decision.

“It adds more confusion and uncertainty to our already beleaguered industry,” he said.

European officials said they were baffled at Trump’s logic, which Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tourism Association, said “stigmatizes an entire continent.”

“The coronavirus is a global crisis not limited to any destination, and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” said Eduardo Santander, head of the European Travel Commission.  “Planes fly from A to B and B to A. The European tourism sector disapproves this unilateral travel ban without any consultation, which will equally affect travel and tourism businesses and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Ironically, Jenkins said, the biggest loser could be America.

“America has basically said to its largest target (tourism) market, ‘You’re not welcome,” he said.  “It’s kind of a bad thing to do.”

As for the impact on Europe, Jenkins said, “If we’re being realistic, in the short term, there is very little good news for European tourism in any case. ... Even before this announcement, bookings were drying up and cancellations were coming in. So all this announcement does is further impair confidence in a product which is already suffering.”

U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow said that “temporarily shutting off travel from Europe is going to exacerbate the already heavy impact of coronavirus on the travel industry and the 15.7 million Americans whose jobs depend on travel.”

“We have and will continue to engage Congress and the administration on policy steps that are necessary to ensure that travel employers -- 83% of which are small businesses -- can keep the lights on for their employees,” Dow said in a statement.

According to U.S. Travel Association economists, 850,000 international visitors flying from Europe (excluding the U.K.) entered the U.S. in March 2019, accounting for about 29% of total overseas arrivals to the U.S. These visitors spent approximately $3.4 billion in the U.S.

Trump, in a Wednesday address from the Oval Office, announced the 30-day ban on inbound travel from the 26 nations in the Schengen Area of Europe, which the White House said has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases outside of mainland China. The most serious outbreak has been in Italy, which has shut its borders.

Although noting that the virus started in China, Trump blamed Europe for not acting quickly enough to address the outbreak and claimed  the clusters of infections growing in the U.S. were “seeded” by European travelers.

While Trump in his address indicated all European travel would be cut off, Homeland Security officials later clarified that the restrictions would apply only to most foreign nationals who have been in the Schengen  zone at any point for 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival. The zone includes Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The restrictions don’t apply to legal permanent U.S. residents, immediate family of U.S. citizens or others “identified in the proclamation” signed by Trump, according to the Associated Press.

The exclusion of the U.K. and Ireland was further baffling, officials said.

“Countries such as Belgium and Austria have fewer cases and deaths than the U.K.,” Ralph Hollister, a travel and tourism analyst at the U.K.-based firm Global Data, said in a statement.  “A lack of reason for this allowance could point to sheer pragmatism. The U.K. was the top inbound source market from Europe for the U.S. in 2019, with 3.5 million arrivals. Global Data’s pre-coronavirus projections show that visitation was set to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 1.5% between 2019 and 2023. This may explain why the U.K. is exempt.”

Other non-Schengen members excluded from the ban include Croatia, San Marino, Monaco, Serbia and Montenegro.

Hollister said the ban is “set to further increase pain for major players in the U.S.”

“Since mid-February, stocks have taken a significant downturn for United, Delta and American airlines,” he said. “This has created a knock-on impact for behemoth Boeing, a company which makes a valuable contribution to the U.S. economy through employment. The aircraft manufacturer has announced it has frozen hiring due to coronavirus market turmoil.”

The cruise industry has also been hard hit by the virus, with several large ships being quarantined because of infected passengers and crew members. 

Earlier this week, the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control advised Americans against cruising, an advisory that the Trump administration walked back the next day, saying that cruising was fine for healthy people and that elderly persons, particularly those with underlying health conditions, should be more reticent.

On Wednesday, Viking said it was suspending river and ocean cruise operations until May 1, a response to the coronavirus situation. On Thursday, other cruise lines began to follow suit. Princess said it was shutting down its global operations until May 10.  Virgin Voyages said it was postponing until Aug. 7 the maiden voyage of its first cruise ship, the Scarlet Lady.  And Uniworld Boutique River Cruises said it would suspend the start of its European river cruise season until April 23.

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