Christopher Gregory/New York Times
When President Trump issued his first travel ban, industry analysts predicted it would send a chilly message to travelers around the world and result in a swift drop in the number of tourists to the United States.
Now, studies show those predictions may have become reality.
Since Jan. 27, when the first controversial travel ban was introduced, attempting to bar entry by citizens from seven countries, there has been an overall decline in international visitors of 1.4 percent compared with the same period last year, according to ForwardKeys, an organization that studies global travel patterns. The group looked at travel bookings from January to September of this year.
The travel order, a source of confusion and fear among some foreign travelers, has already resulted in a loss of billions of dollars to the US economy. After a series of court rulings overturned two previous versions of the ban, a federal judge largely blocked the Trump administration from implementing a third version of the ban last week.
Experts say each time the ban makes headlines, it turns off more travelers from a potential US visit.
“There has been a Trump slump, and the strong dollar has compounded it,” said Olivier Jager, chief executive of ForwardKeys. “This must be worrying for the US economy.”
During the first three months of Trump’s presidency, nearly 700,000 fewer tourists visited the United States than during the same period in 2016, according to the Department of Commerce. That drop accounted for $2.7 billion in lost spending, according to Tourism Economics, a forecasting firm used by the industry. Department of Commerce tourism numbers for April (the most recent month available) were up slightly. Experts attribute the April uptick to Easter holiday travel. (Last year, Easter was in March.)
“I have heard from many European friends who say they specifically have no interest in visiting the US right now because of the ban and Trump,” said travel blogger Adam Groffman, a former Bostonian now based in Berlin.
Analysts at the Internet booking site Hopper also noticed a drop in interest. Searches for flights to the United States from outside the country have dropped 14 percent since the election in November. Searches were lowest following the first travel ban announcement and have remained below Obama-administration levels.
“Travelers are highly sensitive to any factors that put their experience at risk,” said Laura Mandala, managing director of Mandala Research and founder of Women in Travel and Tourism International.
Another potential factor driving away foreign travelers is the global perception of the United States. A June study by the Pew Research Center found favorability ratings toward the country dropped from 64 percent in 2016 to 49 percent in 2017. Among those surveyed globally, 62 percent disagree with the travel ban.
The World Travel & Tourism Council also found that visitors to the United States declined in the first four months of 2017 but warned it’s too soon to blame the travel executive orders.
“Generally, it’s difficult to attribute any growth or declines fully to the Trump administration and any recent policy developments,” said Ana Goes, a spokeswoman for the London-based council. “Tourist flows and contributions are influenced by a range of factors, including currency exchange rates as well as developments in source markets.”
In addition to the strong dollar, tourism to the United States has been affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria and could see further setbacks following this month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.
A recent tourism council report on tourism in North America outlined just how critical travel dollars are to the US economy. Tourist-related products and services added $24 billion to New York City’s gross domestic product in 2016. According to the US Travel Association, tourism supports one in nine US jobs.
Brand USA, a marketing organization that promotes tourism to the United States through a combination of government and private funding, recently launched a campaign to try to alter the perception that the country is inhospitable. Dubbed “One Big Welcome,” the promotion includes a video showing locals in key travel destinations such as Hawaii and New York talking up their hometowns.
According to Christopher Thompson, chief executive of Brand USA, much of the early discussion surrounding the drop in foreign tourists was centered on the Trump administration’s ban and the president’s focus on safety. Instead, he thinks the lagging numbers are a result of a strong dollar.
“Overall, numbers from the Department of Commerce are down, but when I talk to our industry partners, we’re getting very mixed signals as to whether it’s up or down,” he said.
Michael Bellisario, an analyst at R.W. Baird, agreed that it’s difficult to determine if the drop in tourism is a result of the dollar or the travel ban but said new headlines surrounding the latest ban certainly won’t stem the losses.
“There’s really no positive to be found in the latest news and all this negativity,” he said.
There may be some hope that more foreign tourists are beginning to return. After seeing a steady six-month decline, the nonprofit US Travel Association reported a slight increase in tourism in August. Still, there is industrywide concern.
“Despite some growth, international inbound travel to the US continues to underperform,” said David Huether, a researcher at the association. “This jeopardizes the significant gains that the US has made in expanding its share of the lucrative global travel market over the past decade.”
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