Thursday 17 August 2017

No 'Trump slump' in US tourism and expert believes there could be a 'Trump bump'

The US president might create a
The US president might create a "bump" for the tourism sector, it has been suggested (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Concerns that the US tourism industry might witness a "Trump slump" in travel due to the new administration's policies appear to be premature, new figures suggest.

International arrivals and travel-related spending are up in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.

There might even be a "Trump bump", according to Roger Dow, CEO of the US Travel Association, a non-profit representing the travel industry.

A few months ago, some warned that President Donald Trump's travel ban and anti-immigrant rhetoric could hurt tourism.

But the latest numbers from the US Travel Association showed a 4% growth in international travel to the US in April and a 5% growth in May compared with the same months last year.

Various individual sectors of the travel industry also report no declines so far.

The "impending doom hasn't manifested itself", Mr Dow said.

"Right now we cannot identify a loss. It's contrary to everything we've heard, but travel is in slightly better shape than it was a year ago. Everyone wants me to tell the story of the sky is falling, but for the travel industry, the sky is not falling."

Hotel occupancy for the first five months of 2017 was "higher than it has ever been before", said Jan Freitag, senior vice president with STR, which tracks hotel industry data.

American Express Meetings & Events has "not seen a slowdown in either domestic US meetings or international meetings from the US in the past six months", according to senior vice president Issa Jouaneh.

Even New York's National September 11 Memorial and Museum has had more international visitors: 554,381 at the museum from January 1 to July 11, up from 517,539 in the same period last year.

Florida's Orlando International Airport, a gateway for theme park visitors, reported growth for domestic and international passengers in the year to date, though Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel said it was "still premature to determine a specific impact" from Trump administration policies.

International trips are often planned months in advance, so decisions made this year about travel may not be evident yet.

"For us, we already planned before the election," said Alban Michel, waiting with a group of Swiss tourists to see One World Trade's observatory in New York on Monday.

Companies that track online behaviour say searches for US.travel are down.

Yet tour companies that bring foreigners here are "not only holding year over year, but in many cases they're having a record year", according to Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, which markets the US to the world.

Mr Thompson thinks it is "too early to tell" how the industry will fare, adding that the travel industry's ups and downs may have "little or nothing to do" with Mr Trump and more to do with the strong dollar and lacklustre economies elsewhere.

Asked if there's a "Trump slump" in travel to the 12 Southern states marketed by Travel South USA, CEO Liz Bittner said: "The truth of the matter is no. I think it was a lot of media hype."

Ms Bittner agreed that the challenge for US tourism "isn't so much Trump. It's the strong US dollar against some of the other currencies", which makes the US an expensive destination for foreigners.

Daniele Biron, an Italian visiting the 9/11 memorial while in New York for a conference, agreed that "the value of the dollar" is a factor for many travellers, but "I don't know if the politics" matter to most visitors.

Isabelle Bornemann, owner of Alaska Travel Connections, said her international group bookings are down 30%, mainly because of the strong dollar.

But some European travel agencies told Ms Bornemann the decision to stay away is political, based on the perception that foreigners are not welcome in the US.

AP

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