One look at the most recent headlines coming out of the U.S. might leave the impression that the American travel brand is hurtling headlong into a PR crisis.
With Republican front-runner Donald Trump calling last week for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and federal lawmakers calling for stricter security requirements for everything from the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to trusted traveler programs, concerns are rising in the inbound travel sector that if the balance between security and freedom tips too far in the direction of security, business could suffer seriously.
Trump's comments have become especially worrisome. Last week, more than 100,000 U.K. citizens signed a petition in a single day calling on Parliament to ban Trump from all of Britain, where he owns several golf resorts, for hate speech. Although no one expected Parliament to actually vote to ban him, the number of signatures requires members to debate the matter as a matter of law.
Also last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron was among a growing number of European leaders who voiced strong opposition to Trump's views, which Cameron called "divisive and wrong."
Yet despite all the negative headlines, spokespersons for some of the most significant inbound U.S. source markets reported last week that political rhetoric and security anxiety in the U.S. in the wake of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino shootings have not yet become an issue for travelers from their countries.
According to Haybina Hao, the director of international development for the National Tour Association and the person in charge of the organization's China Inbound Program, Chinese travelers, which represent one of the most promising growth markets for the U.S., still have a strong desire to visit. Even so, she said, "We can always work to enhance our image."
Hao said it would help reassure Chinese travelers if the U.S. would continue to issue statements calling for peace and be welcoming toward tourists.
"This [latest violence] is not a big concern for the Chinese travelers," she said. "There have been shootings in the U.S. in the past, and we don't feel this recent shooting would be particularly alarming for Chinese travelers."
Mary Jane Hiebert, chair of the Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA), said her organization had not seen a decrease in travel to the U.S.
"We've had no questions relating to security that would deter anyone from travelling to the U.S., even with the resent shootings," Hiebert said.
"A higher level of security is the new norm for travel, and as long as people allow for the time and patience required, they will be fine," she added.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Travel Association, the inbound travel industry's main lobbying group, has been closely monitoring legislative proposals that have cropped up in Congress in the aftermath of the ISIS-related Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shootings, to ensure that the U.S. remains a welcoming and desirable destination.
"Everything we do, from how we welcome [travelers], whether we make them wait in line, whether we treat them with respect, all those things matter," said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs at U.S. Travel.
Last week, the House passed a VWP reform bill that would increase information-sharing between the U.S. and the 38 countries in the program and would also prohibit anyone who has visited Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan in the past five years from traveling to the U.S. without a visa.
U.S. Travel said it supported the passage of the bill because rather than dismantle or undermine the entire VWP program, it aims to strengthen it.
But, Grella said, the U.S. travel industry isn't out of the woods yet.
For example, the Visa Waiver Program Security Enhancement Act, which was introduced in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), would require all VWP travelers to submit biometric information, including fingerprints, before traveling to the U.S.
"In order to establish such a system ... you either set up kiosks at 400 airports or you mandate that fingerprints take place ahead of time at a consulate or an embassy," Grella said. "That would be equally as burdensome as visa travel."
As for any potential slump in travel due to Trump, ACTA's Hiebert said, "I think most Canadians think the U.S. can keep him. ... He is very small-minded and is creating greater trouble for the U.S. than he is offering in solutions." Which is to say we are not likely to see a Trump slump from Canada.