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Trump Slump? International Travel To U.S. Suffers Noticeable Drop Since January

Air France Plane

According to Department of Commerce figures, there has been a marked decline in international travel to the United States since the beginning of the year:

Fewer international travelers came to the United States during the first few months of this year than over the same period last year, confirming concerns of some in the travel industry.

New figures released by the U.S. Department of Commerce show a drop in international visitors to the United States by close to 700,000 in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the previous year. European countries were down 10.1 percent, and Mexico was off 7.1 percent in the quarter. The largest drops were from the Middle East and Africa, though they represent a much smaller percentage of overall travel to the United States.

Overall, 697,791 fewer foreigners visited the United States in the first three months of the year, down 4.2 percent to 15.8 million. According to Tourism Economics, a branch of Oxford Economics based in Wayne, Pa., that analyzes travel data, the drop represents a loss of nearly $2.7 billion in spending.

As points of comparison, the first quarter of 2013, after the reelection of Barack Obama, international tourism was up 6.4 percent, and the first quarter of 2009, after President Obama’s first election (and during global recession that began at the end of 2008), it was down 14.3 percent.

The question of whether the results prove a ripple effect from President Trump’s proposed travel ban on visitors from six majority-Muslim countries, an expanded wall along the Mexican border and anti-immigrant statements remains unanswered. But the data tracks with a decline in United States favorability abroad: In June, the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of those surveyed in 37 nations had a positive view of the United States, versus 64 percent at the end of President Obama’s term in office.

Last week, Pew reported that nearly two-thirds of Mexicans held a negative opinion of the United States, more than double the figure of two years ago, which stood at 29 percent.

“It’s not a reach to say the rhetoric and policies of this administration are affecting sentiment around the world, creating antipathy toward the U.S. and affecting travel behavior,” said Adam Sacks, the president of Tourism Economics.

In response to a Facebook post by The New York Times, European readers overwhelmingly cited the Trump administration and its policies as reasons for avoiding or canceling trips to the United States.

“We are British Muslims and live in London,” Sabaa Farrukh wrote. “We wanted to visit N.Y.C. this summer but decided against it simply because we felt we wouldn’t be welcome there and didn’t want to waste precious holiday time in case there was a problem at passport control at the airport.”

Others cited violence and safety. Marika Treichel, who lives in Denmark, wrote, “I have always dreamed of visiting the US. But the rise of gun violence and political chaos has made me want to cancel all future travels to the U.S. until I can feel safe as a tourist.”

In response to a Facebook post by The New York Times, European readers overwhelmingly cited the Trump administration and its policies as reasons for avoiding or canceling trips to the United States.

“We are British Muslims and live in London,” Sabaa Farrukh wrote. “We wanted to visit N.Y.C. this summer but decided against it simply because we felt we wouldn’t be welcome there and didn’t want to waste precious holiday time in case there was a problem at passport control at the airport.”

Others cited violence and safety. Marika Treichel, who lives in Denmark, wrote, “I have always dreamed of visiting the US. But the rise of gun violence and political chaos has made me want to cancel all future travels to the U.S. until I can feel safe as a tourist.”

This has been a strong year for the U.S. dollar, which makes travel more expensive for other currencies — though exceptions make that an unsatisfying explanation for the tourism drop. The Canadian dollar, for example, is weaker than it has been in previous years (despite a summer surge), yet Canadian tourism to the United States was up 14.8 percent January through April.

Within Europe, the tourism declines were largest in Switzerland at nearly 28 percent, Belgium at 20 percent and Britain at 15.5 percent. Britain accounts for the largest share by country of European arrivals in the United States, with 4.5 million tourists last year, making its slowdown significant. (Asian tourism was about the same as last year — up .6 percent — mainly due to a surge of South Korean travelers, up over 15 percent in the first quarter.)

This isn’t the first time there’s been a report about lower international travel to the United States since the start of the year. Back in March, travel industry experts were reporting a noticeable drop in tourism to the United States, most prominently from European nations that account for a large part of the tourism dollars that the U.S. benefits from. As I pointed out at the time, though, it’s important not to fall into the trap of falling into a post hoc ergo propter hoc trap. The fact that there has been a drop in tourism since the start of the year doesn’t mean that it’s due to the fact that Donald Trump was elected President. There could be any number of reasons why we’ve seen a drop. As the article linked above notes, for example, the U.S. dollar has been particularly strong this year, which makes travel to the United States from other nations more expensive depending on the particular exchange rate. Additionally, it appears from looking at the data that there are some parts of the world, such as several Asian nations such as South Korea, that have shown an increase in tourism since the start of the year. Similarly, there was an increase in travel from Canada despite the fact that the Canadian Dollar has weakened this year compared to previous years. Finally, the decline in travel could just be a reflection of temporary changes in consumer preference or people deciding to stay close to home at a time when international tensions in a variety of quarters is becoming higher.

Taking those caveats into account, though, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if Trump’s election is playing some role in the decline in tourism from overseas. Over the past eight months, there have been several reports from various parts of the world documenting a measurable decline in positive opinions about the United States from residents of foreign countries since Trump took office. Some of the most significant drops in public opinion have come from many of the same European nations that have seen the biggest drops in travel to the United States. So, the possibility that at least part of this drop in international travel is due to how residents of other countries view the United States shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. If that is the reason, I can’t say I blame them. Being exposed to this guy on a daily basis here in the U.S. can be exhausting. The prospect of paying for that privilege may be more than some people are willing to bear.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t want to be here anymore and won’t be five minutes after my daughter graduates high school. Can’t imagine why any European wants to visit. The United States is no longer what it was.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  2. MarkedMan says:

    We have lots and lots of international friends from all over the world. The ones who travel for pleasure are avoiding the US. Trump is part, but the stories of humiliating people at the border play an even more important role.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  3. CSK says:

    Well, hell, us real Amurcuns don’t need no danged furriners anyhow. Right? Right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. There are several stories in the Brazilian media about students and teenagers being detained by the immigration while trying to travel for study or even for tourism. These stories have a chilling effect, a undocumented worker trying to overstay a visa is identical to a tourist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The United States is no longer what it was.

    Nothing is what it was. The only thing anything can possibly be is what it is becoming.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Not reassuring given what we’re becoming.

    Frankly I wish all tourism to the US would stop. It’s like having visitors stop by when you’re passed out on the floor in a pool of your own sick. It’s humiliating. Come back in three years after we’ve showered some of the stink off us.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    What could possibly have made foreigners think they aren’t welcome here.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  8. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    Last April when I was visiting friends in Korea, my Korean friends were saying, “we don’t understand, Trump couldn’t possibly be as bad as you’re saying.” My euigook friends and I just laughed ruefully. Teachers who were considering bringing their young children back to the states to start school were suddenly thinking that their children learning more Korean wouldn’t be so bad. Wa!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds: There you go, your second post was much more positive. Just three years to go!

    (God help us.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: There’s nowhere to go. The whole planet is being remade in the image of what’s happening here, so we win here or we fall.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Ben Wolf: Who’s “we” and what constitutes “win?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Nah, that’s way overstating it. Macron is just a centrist not a racist clown. Merkel has made big mistakes but she’s on the side of the angels. Spain’s doing well, Portugal struggles but is okay, Netherlands is fine, so’s Switzerland, Austria. Scandinavia is great. Almost all of Europe offers excellent possibilities. Even Greece is coming back. Then there’s South America, parts of which are a mess, but has many lovely, safe countries. Japan.

    The UK? Well, that’s not wonderful, but London will still be London. Up in Scotland they’re practically communists and over in Ireland may be broke but the government’s not a problem.

    Granted the world has closed in a bit, but only a bit. 90% of the places I’d ever consider living are still livable. I’ve given this some careful thought, not just because I’m planning to go expat but because I’m also starting an adult book series set in various expat enclaves.

    The plan at this point (and it goes through many iterations) is for Katherine and I to spend a year doing hotels and AirBnB, do a month each in a dozen places around the world. And there are still way more than a dozen places I want to go spend a month.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I’m semi-retired so don’t travel for conferences anymore, but the decline in convention/conference business in the US has been noticeable for at least 10 to 12 years. It’s just too much hassle at Customs to risk having a prestigious guest speaker or presenter turned away because the Customs twerps went all respect-mah-authoritay! on them. And funnily enough, people going about their normal professional and personal lives don’t like having their phones and laptops searched by jerks.

    Funny how that works, isn’t it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: Unfortunately Macron’s popularity is now on par with Trump’s and the country is in what appears to be a permanent state of emergency. In Germany the racist AfD is currently polling for 10% of the seats in the Bundestag. Not to mention Merkel and her party have been found deep in the pockets of VW, Daimler and BMW and appear to have colluded not only to influence policy but to systematically defraud the public. Spain is a police state facing a rebellion, Portugal is a nice place.

    And then, there’s global warming.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Ben, I used to travel to Spain when it really was a police state, when the first thing anyone told you was don’t f-ck with the Guardia. I’ve been to Spain since. It is not in any way, shape or form a police state, it’s one of the most tolerant and socially liberal countries in the world.

    Macron’s polling is irrelevant as is the 10% of Germans who are Nazis – that’s evidently about a third of the number in this country.

    I don’t think ‘they’ are winning. I think they had a surge and we stopped them, for now. I often travel with a person who is transgender and, even keeping that in mind, most of the places I want to go are no problem. I wasn’t interested in Saudi Arabia, anyway. The only country I’ve had to nix is Russia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: Donald Trump can only dream of this:

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150705/18174231556/spain-government-goes-full-police-state-enacts-law-forbidding-dissent-unauthorized-photography-law-enforcement.shtml

    As for Germany I think you’re underestimating the situation. Germany has the best racists. Just ask the 54 guys Hitler started with.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:
    That is very troubling in Spain. I had not heard of that. Thanks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: Always, brother. I want you safe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0