Photo via Wikimedia Commons user Quinn Norton

New Numbers Suggest Trump Really Might Be Driving Away Tourism

Travel spending is in decline. Are Trump's "America First" policies to blame?

07 April 2017, 5:00am

Photo via Wikimedia Commons user Quinn Norton

This article was originally published on VICE US.

Apart from the policy implications of President Trump's nationalist approach to government, one potential consequence of throwing around the phrase "America First" is that it's a bad tourism slogan. By implication, you're essentially saying "Hi, I'm US President Donald Trump, and I think other countries and the people in them are second rate at best."

New numbers suggest that Trump's rhetoric might be driving tourists away from the US in droves. Specifically, Mark Whitehouse of Bloomberg View dug through numbers from The Bureau of Economic Analysis, and spotted a dip in tourism spending of 10.2 percent over the three-month period ending on February 1, following Trump's election. The largest drop since the 2008/2009 recession.

Trump has created tangible reasons to stay away. His two attempts to suppress travelers from some majority Muslim countries from entering the US were very tourism un-friendly just on the face of it, as is the illogical new policy of not allowing airline passengers from eight majority-Muslim countries to use their laptops and tablets while they fly to the US. The bizarre new proposal to demand the social media passwords of incoming travelers from such places as Europe, Australia and Japan would be even more unwelcoming.

Dimitri Ioannides, professor of tourism studies and geography at Mid-Sweden University, and author of the book Tourism in the USA: A Spatial and Social Synthesis told me that anecdotally, he's seen changes in people's travel plans, both to boycott the US for political reasons, and to avoid it because being in the US sounds unpleasant. "I'm not talking about people from the Middle East. I'm talking about people from Scandinavia saying 'maybe we should go somewhere else for the holiday,'" Ioannides told me.

Ioannides, who has spent decades studying travel-related matters in the US, has also seen other signs of a strain. For instance, he told me a series of two minute ads originally commissioned by Visit the USA (a.k.a. the federal government) in 2015 to drive tourism to America's seldom-visited cities, have been recut into quick-cutting blurbs that seem to highlight American diversity. These TV spots, he says, have been in heavy rotation all over Europe this past month.

Ioannides' explanation for the sudden advertising blitz: "Obviously Visit the USA is worried. I haven't seen commercials like this before." Visit the USA itself did not immediately return a request for comment about this, and we will update this post if they do.

Laying all the blame for the decline in tourism at the feet of Trump, however, "would be a dangerous assumption," according to Ioannides.

In his Bloomberg piece, Mark Whitehouse, who calls the dip "small" in comparison to the drop-off in tourism after 9/11, notes that the US dollar saw a two percent gain in value against European currencies, which makes US travel a tiny bit pricier. But according to statistics from the US Bureau of Transportation, the value of the dollar makes for an erratic and unreliable predictor of tourism spending. Whitehouse also claims that short-term dips in spending "often reverse themselves."

Ioannides suggested that this may all blow over, because, in the grand scheme of things, it's not as unusual as it may seem.

"I'm a US citizen now, but the first time I came to the US was in 1986, and I stupidly crossed a yellow line and got chewed out by a guard, and that kind of thing didn't really happen in other places," Ioannides told me.

"The US has always been kind of strict," he added.

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