(Editor’s Note: As we were preparing to distribute this issue of the Inbound Report, a U.S. Appellate Court ruling sustaining a stay against President Trump’s executive order imposing a travel ban on certain international visitors was still in place. Most of what follows is based on developments that occurred while the ban was still in effect.)
Ever since the evening of Jan. 27, 2017, much of the global tour and travel industry has been writhing in turmoil in the wake of an executive order signed that day by President Donald Trump which keeps refugees from entering the USA for 120 days and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations out for three months. The countries affected are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. While this suggests the “extreme vetting” Trump alluded to during the 2016 presidential campaign, it still seems to have caught most Americans, as well as the leaders of other nations, by surprise.
The overwhelming reaction among the key international source markets to the travel ban, as it has come to be known, has been negative. Here, the Inbound Report will not recap or discuss such; there is enough of that to see or hear in other news channels of distribution. Rather, what we want to do is, in the simplest terms possible, identify some reports of what the executive order and the global reaction to it mean to the U.S. inbound tourism industry in quantifiable terms.
First, the “good” news: The good news is that there is no bad news—or anticipated bad news—to report from some quarters.
- For instance, reports the German travel trade publication, FVW, “German tour operators remain confident about U.S. bookings this year despite President Trump’s ban. For most Germans, the point is made, a trip to the United States is not something to be put off or canceled because of political considerations.
- Also, in anticipation of considerable declines in visitorship from Mexico, as well as markets that use the connections of carriers headquartered in the Middle East, sources tell us that there could be bargain sales of seats in from such markets as some airlines (such as Volaris and Viva in Mexico and Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways in the Middle East) have greatly increased capacity and routes to and from the USA in the past five years and do not want to shut down the routes. To keep flying and fill seats at the same time, the airlines will have to offer bargain rates.
Second, the other news:
- At least 100,000 visas were revoked in the first week of the ban, a lawyer for the Justice Department revealed in court during a Feb. 3 hearing in which a U.S. judge granted Virginia’s motion to join a lawsuit challenging the immigration ban. However, the U.S. the State Department disputed the Justice Department’s numbers, issuing a statement claiming the amount of revoked visas was actually fewer than 60,000.
- It seems as if the timing of the travel ban could effectively kill the chances of Los Angeles to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Paris, published reports suggest, is now the favorite to win the bid, while Los Angeles and Rome—both have hosted the games in the past—are still contenders. The winner will be announced on Sept. 13 of this year. The U.S. travel ban has already been sharply criticized by at least one member of the International Olympic Committee.
Rather than just speculate about the bottom-line impact of the travel ban, Ernest Wooden, Jr., president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board reported on a study the board had conducted by Tourism Economics, an independent research partner, to re-evaluate the Los Angeles forecast for travel in the coming years.
First, some numbers regarding L.A.’s base of international visitors—there were 6.730 million in 2016; that’s a 3.3 percent increase over the 6.515,000 million international visitors who came Los Angeles in 2015. The study projected that Los Angeles County could suffer a potential three-year loss of 800,000 international visitors as a direct result of Trump’s executive order. (These visitors typically spend $920 each while in L.A., totaling a potential loss of $736 million in direct tourism spending.) Assuming that the loss is spread evenly over the three years, it means a decline of 267,000 a year—or a 3.9 percent drop this year from 2016.
- A recent analysis of searches in late January by the Swedish travel search engine, Flygresor.se, of searches in late January showed a substantial decline in the number of people seeking information on travel to the USA. Flygresor.se analyzed 2.5 million flight searches made on the website and its app during the first weekend after Trump’s inauguration as president and during the second weekend after the inauguration, comparing them to the same periods a year ago.
The result indicates a sharp reduction in interest to travel to the United States. In Trump’s first weekend as president, the percentage of searches to the U.S. declined by 43 percent against the year before. One weekend later, following the announced of the travel ban, the reduction was up 47 percent compared to a year ago.
- —Canadian searches for flights to American destinations dropped 43 per cent the weekend of Jan. 27-29 compared to a previous weekend earlier in January, according to the online travel site, CheapFlights.com.
- “The findings we’re showing today are certainly noteworthy,” said Emily Fisher, head of North American communications for the company. “They’re not a seasonal swing, they’re not something that’s just driven by normal traffic patterns.”
Searches for American destinations from other countries were also down 38 per cent, she added. The data compares searches from Jan. 27 to Jan. 29 with an earlier weekend, Jan. 6 to 8.
- While not directly related to the travel ban—but directly related to Trump’s inauguration as president—a flight searches from the UK to the U.S. tracked by the travel search engine KAYAK.co.uk dropped 39 per cent after the inauguration, compared to searches during the rest of the month. The following day alone–Trump’s first as President–interest in flights decreased by 24 per cent.
The pattern was replicated across the rest of Europe, according to KAYAK, revealing that overall European demand fell on average by 37 per cent on January 20 when Trump became President, compared to the rest of January.
- The results of a poll conducted during the week following Trump’s executive order and released Feb. 3rd showed that over a third of Brits say they are reconsidering plans to go on holiday as a result of the order. A poll of 1,000 people by HolidayExtras.com showed 38 percent said they are having a rethink.
The survey found 25 percent would reconsider a U.S. holiday in protest of the immigration restrictions, 7 percent felt concerned about delays at passport control, and 6 percent felt that confusing visa requirements were a further deterrent in visiting the country. While protest was the most popular reason for reconsidering a U.S. visit across both genders, 29 percent of females made this stand compared to just 22 percent of men.
- Another smaller UK survey (420 people) by the website Simply Holiday Deals found similar results, with just over a third of respondents saying they would reconsider visiting the country and 8 percent saying they were undecided. But it also found that just over half of Brits agree with, or are undecided about, Trump’s controversial order and 45 percent believe the UK should seek to execute a similar ban.
- At the personal level, the impact of the ban shone in the decision of a UK-based Halal-specialist tour operator, Serendipity Tailormade, to temporarily stop selling U.S. destinations, as well as routes on U.S. airlines to Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. Director Nabeel Shariff said in a statement: “We believe the potential delays and distress that landing into U.S. destinations or flying on US airlines could cause clients is simply unnecessary.”
- —Perhaps the uncertainty and frenzy triggered by the travel ban is best captured in this e-mail message from a domestic U.S. tour operator sent to the NAJ Group (publisher of the Inbound Report) four days after it was announced “What is this administration doing? Ramming executive orders one after another, no cabinet in place, firing the acting Attorney General, appointing a new Attorney General who still has to be vetted by the Senate and can’t help with this Muslim ban, or call it what you may. Very scary for us in the travel industry as today saw cancellations from people not wanting to deal with airports.”