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When President Trump makes news, flight searches to US tumble

Travelers arriving at the international terminal of O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on April 25, the day the Supreme Court began hearing arguments to determine if President Trump's limited travel ban overstepped his power because it singles out several mostly Muslim nations.
Travelers arriving at the international terminal of O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on April 25, the day the Supreme Court began hearing arguments to determine if President Trump's limited travel ban overstepped his power because it singles out several mostly Muslim nations.Scott Olson/Getty Images

Fewer international travelers have come to the United States since President Trump took office at the beginning of 2017. But a study released Monday showed a bit of good news for the travel industry: The number of Russians looking to visit increased by 11 percent last week.

According to the study by the airline search app Hopper, when the president makes international headlines, the number of people searching for flights to the United States tumbles, with the exception of Russian visitors. Analysts at Hopper looked at 6 billion flight searches and found that when foreign policy problems arise, world travelers tend to lose interest in the United States.

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Specifically, the study looked at flight searches around the time of the G7 Summit, Trump’s criticism of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the announcement of tariffs against trade partners, increasing reports of families being separated at the Mexican border, and the travel ban upheld by the Supreme Court.

“There was a very striking correlation between these events and a decrease in the number of flight searches to the US,” said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper. “These are immediate reactions that I think will likely lessen in time, but I suspect there will be a long-term impact on travel to the US.”

The so-called Trump Slump in tourism began shortly after Trump took office last year and announced a travel ban to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Since that time, several tourism industry experts and agencies have said that the US economy has lost billions of dollars from travelers who now view the United States as inhospitable.

The Hopper study is one of the first to look at the reaction of international travelers timed to controversial Trump policies, meetings, and tweets. Specifically:

Tariffs, May 31 — Trump tariffs were announced at the end of May, affecting countries worldwide. When the tariffs began July 8, flight demand from China to the United States dropped 8 percent.

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G7 summit, June 9 — Trump criticized Trudeau on the final day of the G7 Summit in Canada. Flight search demand from Canada to US destinations dropped by 21 percent. Flight searches from all European G7 countries also dropped.

Mexican border crisis, June 15 — As news of children being held in detention centers gained widespread attention, flight searches from Mexico to the United States dropped by more than 8 percent.

Travel ban upheld by the Supreme Court, June 26 — Since Trump took office, headlines about the travel ban have inevitably knocked down the number of visitors to the United States. When the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s travel ban last month, there was a drop in flight demand from 70 percent of the 96 countries analyzed in the study.

NATO summit, July 11-12 — As the summit began in Brussels, flight searches to United States destinations from Europe decreased by 5 percent. However, flight search demand from Russia to the US increased 11 percent in anticipation of Trump and Putin’s meeting days later.

“I don’t think it’s that people necessarily have a negative impression of the US based on what they see on TV,” Surry said. “But if a traveler gets the impression that things might be difficult, or they may have visa problems, their inclination is probably going to be ‘OK, we’ll go somewhere else.’ All of those little pieces add up.”

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While multiple studies have shown that inbound tourism to the United States has dipped, many parts of the world are experiencing a tourism boom. International tourism arrivals worldwide in 2017 were up 7 percent, according to the UN World Tourism Organization.

According to the US Department of Commerce, international tourism to the United States was down by 4 percent last year. However, the Department of Commerce suspended publication of figures about foreign tourism in March because of “technical issues with a significant number of records” the agency receives from Customs and Border Protection.


Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.