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Trump's effect on tourism

Frederike Müller
February 15, 2017

Law courts are busily debating US President Donald Trump's travel ban but so too is the tourism sector. Will it deter holidaymakers or will they continue traveling to the US despite the new leadership?

USA New York Freiheitsstatue mit Skyline
Image: Getty Images/D. Angerer

President Donald Trump's currently suspended travel ban for people from seven Muslim-majority countries is deterring tourism to the US - at least according to the latest report by a travel industry service. The analysis of booking data by Forward Keys  showed that, in the days following the January 27th executive order, bookings of trips to the US slumped by 6.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago. For western Europe it estimated a decline of 13.6 percent. 

German tour operators surprised

The study evoked surprise among German tour operators such as Tui. Europe's largest travel company is also the market leader in Germany. The company is yet to detect a reduction here, either in bookings of complete package tours or in individual travel components. On the contrary, according to spokesman Mario Köpers: "Most recently, growth in US travel has been in the double digits. Business has also started well in 2017." He said his colleagues at Tui Group Europe had also been unable to discern any Trump effect, and that trips to the US continued to sell well.  

And Tui is not an isolated case. Responding to DW's enquiry, travel company Thomas Cook Germany confirmed it also had no decline in bookings to report, saying it had even expanded its selection. 

historische Route 66 mit Beschilderung
The legendary Route 66 which crosses the USAImage: picture alliance/blickwinkel/A. Held

Passing phenomenon or trend?

Torsten Schäfer from the German Travel Association (DRV) has also seen no decline in booking numbers so far. On the contrary: he says trips to the US are on the increase as air fares are low. "For many Germans, a trip to the US is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream - to see New York or drive along Route 66."

Schäfer suspects that the decline in bookings in the ForwardKeys analysis is due more to business travelers than tourists. He views the results as a momentary phenomenon, and says that it won't be possible to assess accurately whether or not Trump's policies are influencing travel bookings until March at the earliest. 

Russians are discovering the US

Nonetheless the ForwardKeys analysis makes it possible to deduce tendencies in individual regions, for instance, for Russia. The country played hardly any role in US tourism until 2015. According to the US Travel Association, it wasn't even among the top 20. Now, since the travel ban, ForwardKeys has registered an increase of 15.8 percent for eastern Europe and Russia combined.

The Russian tourist association talking to DW confirmed growth in tourism to the US in individual trips, without mentioning specific numbers. Russians traditionally take shopping trips to New York especially in early January during the winter holidays. They are now also venturing into vacationing in the US because Trump has announced several times that he wants to improve relations with Russia. This Trump effect has positively affected the travel climate. 

Trump Reiseverbot New York
John F. Kennedy International Airport in New YorkImage: picture alliance/AP Images/A. F. Yuan

Reactions from the Muslim world

Until now, tourists from the Middle East contributed notably to US tourism: 2.6 million visited the US in 2014, according to information from the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI). That includes Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, countries not covered by Trump's travel ban.  As expected, those numbers collapsed after the ban. According to the ForwardKeys analysis, bookings in the Middle East fell by 37.5 percent and, in the seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) directly affected by the ban, by 80 percent.

The travel industry fears that not only tourists from Muslim countries, but also from around the world, might no longer feel welcome in the US, especially visitors from Mexico. President Trump's announcement that he wants to build a wall and his campaign rhetoric regarding Mexico is not liable to have persuaded many Mexicans to choose the US as their next holiday destination. At least until now, Mexico, with more than 18 million visitors a year, has been the second-largest source of tourists to the US after Canada. 

Warnings against isolationism

Taleb Rifai, the secretary general of the World Tourist Organization (UNWTO),  warned that "isolationism and blind discriminatory actions will not lead to increased security but rather to growing tensions and threats" in a recent statement on Trump's travel ban decree. He added that the travel ban contravened principles of freedom of travel and would hinder the growth of the tourism sector.  

It's a threatening scenario for the US tourism industry. It took until 2010 for it to recover from the setbacks it had to accept as a result of the terrorist threat and increased security measures after 9/11 and, later, the Iraq war. Whether the psychological effect of the travel ban will be of short or long duration could depend on Trump's future policies.