International travel to US increases despite Trump threats

Tourists take photographs on the Brooklyn Bridge, March 1, 2017 in New York City.

Travel has been a constant headline during Trump’s first few months in office. The president has talked about building a wall to block Mexican immigration, he’s issued controversial travel bans and the Department of Homeland Security has initiated new security measures for international travelers.

Some thought the constant news would hit the tourism industry hard, but according to the US Travel Association, international travel to the US actually grew 5.2% in May compared to a year ago. In April, the association’s Travel Trends Index showed that travel was up 6.6% compared to last year. This was the first month of data to begin reflecting any effects of Trump’s initial executive order restricting entry of citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries.

It appears travelers still want to visit the US – at least for now. “There is widespread talk of daunting challenges to the US travel market—perception of the country abroad is mentioned most, but the strong dollar and slowing global economy are factors as well—yet the resilience of our sector continues to astound,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.

One reason why tourism hasn’t slowed could be because of effective marketing on the state level. In April, NYC & Company, the marketing agency responsible for tourism in New York, signed a partnership with Mexico City to encourage travel between the two cities. The one-year agreement calls for the two countries to share tourism marketing tips and marketing assets to boost travel in both places.  

Also in April, Discover Los Angeles released a tourism campaign called “Everyone is Welcome,” targeting visitors who might be discouraged by Trump’s travel ban. For Los Angeles, loss in tourism could be detrimental. In 2016, LA alone welcomed 7 million international tourists, each spending about $920 per visit.

Down south, Visit Florida was given $76 million in funding last month to improve tourism marketing. Tourism officials in the state have seen a drop in tourists from Canada and Brazil, and are hoping that a more focused approach to branding will bring them back.

Indeed, the messaging from the travel industry concerning international tourism has been consistent. In June, 1,300 travel professionals from around the world gathered for the International Pow Wow (IPW)  trade show in Denver. There, leaders discussed the importance of promoting the US and welcoming tourists from abroad.

“All of us need to help correct the notion that the United States of America does not want international travelers,” said Geoff Ballotti, chief executive of Wyndham Hotel Group. “Advocacy has never mattered more.”

The US Travel Association predicts that travel will grow by 1.8% through November, but those changes will be at a slower rate than last year. Even more, pending legislation could dampen it further.

The Supreme Court approved parts of Trump’s travel ban on June 26, which prohibits the entry of citizens from six countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East for 90 days. The only way around this rule is if the person has a “bona fide” family member living in the States. Refugees from other countries can’t enter for 120 days.

Additionally, part of Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 would eliminate Brand USA, the marketing program developed to promote tourism in the US. Brand USA says that it brings millions of tourists to the US every year, creating $15 billion in business sales and nearly $2 billion in federal, state, and local taxes.

On a positive note, domestic tourism continues to thrive, with bookings and searches expected to remain steady through the end of the year.

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. 

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