July 18, 2017

Media-Cited ‘Trump Slump’ in Foreign Tourism Turns Out to Have Been a Bump

In March and April, the press, with the help of hyperventilating tourism industry officials, warned readers and viewers that a “Trump slump” in foreign visitors to the U.S. was likely because of President Donald Trump’s attempts to impose a temporary travel ban from six countries and “the negative sentiments” associated with having Trump as this nation’s President. Even then, the evidence was thin. But on Monday, Beth J. Harpaz at the Associated Press reported that “International arrivals and travel-related spending are up in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016,” quite sharply so in the past two reported months. Imagine that.

An April 4 NBC News report by Harriet Baskas noted flatness during Trump’s first two months in office, and tried to pin it on the President. The reporter attempted to maximize the negativity in her presentation of the numbers (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Is an unwelcoming political climate really creating a “Trump Slump” in the annual $250 billion business and leisure travel industry in the United States?

“Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe So,” say travel industry experts and number crunchers.

… right after Trump issued the first travel ban, search engines such as Hopper saw a serious slip in flight searches into the U.S. and in the eight days following January 27 (the day the travel ban was first imposed) ForwardKeys saw international bookings to the U.S. fall by 6.5 percent.

Since then, there’s been a continued slow-down in U.S.-bound air travel bookings.

From January 28 to March 25, bookings were essentially flat, up just. 0.1 percent over the same period last year, according to ForwardKeys.

Baskas clearly wanted readers to focus on that 6.5 percent decline in the first eight days of the temporary travel ban. But the tiny increase from January 28 to March 25 includes those eight days (Jan. 28 to Feb. 4), meaning that the decline was slightly more than offset by an increase of roughly 1.2 percent during the last 49 days of the period (Feb. 5 to March 25).

So where was this “continued slow-down” Baskas claimed? There wasn’t one.

There was another potential explanation for a potential hit to foreign tourism which Baskas mentioned in passing, while primarily going after Trump:

Though also attributable to the strength of the U.S. dollar, the dip is predominantly due to “the negative sentiments of the U.S. as a destination created by some of the new policies of President Trump’s Administration,” said Helen Marano, WTTC’s Senior Vice President Government Affairs. “Already, there have been clear signs and data that international visitors are rethinking booking their holidays to the U.S.”

But in a Travel Trends Index report released Tuesday, the U.S. Travel Association said that international travel to the U.S. “defied growth expectations” and actually grew faster than domestic travel during February.

But the group warns of a drop-off in international travel going forward.

The February growth just cited is consistent with the post-February 4 increase discussed earlier.

There is an MSNBC video at the NBC link, presumably from about the same early-April time period, which comes across as far more certain that a slump was in full swing, and that it was all Trump’s fault. Additionally, reports from outlets in the UK (The Economist, the UK Independent, and the UK Guardian) were somehow absolutely convinced that foreign tourism to the U.S. was already “falling off a cliff.”

As for the alleged “rethinking” by potential tourists, Monday’s AP report indicates that the rethinkers didn’t change their plans, while additional others decided to visit the U.S. despite the presence of mean old Donald Trump in the White House. These developments have taken a travel industry spokesman completely by surprise:

No Trump slump in tourism but there could be a Trump bump

Last winter, the U.S. tourism industry fretted that Trump administration policies might lead to a “Trump slump” in travel.

But those fears may have been premature. International arrivals and travel-related spending are up in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.

There might even be a “Trump bump,” says Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit representing the travel industry.

A few months ago, Dow and others warned that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and ban on travel from a handful of mostly Muslim countries could send an anti-tourism message.

But “impending doom hasn’t manifested itself,” Dow said in an interview. “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.”

Latest numbers from the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Trends Index showed 6.6 percent growth in international travel to the U.S. in April and 5 percent growth in May compared with the same months last year. The Travel Trends Index uses hotel, airline and U.S. government data.

The increases seen in April and May are significant “bumps,” whether one wants to credit Trump or not. Such increases, sustained for about a year, could be fairly characterized as a “boom,” and a pretty impressive one, especially given the strong dollar.

The AP’s Harpaz went on to cite other impressive growth stats. Yet she seemed determined to find people who were downbeat. After finding a couple of destination operators who threw shade at Trump for alleged reductions in foreign visitors, she posted this paragraph about New York City:

New York City’s tourism agency, NYC & Company, predicts that 300,000 fewer international travelers will visit the city this year than last, according to spokesman Chris Heywood. Concerns about Trump administration’s policies include “rhetoric surrounding the travel ban, laptop bans on certain airline carriers and the threat of having visitors reveal social media accounts,” along with “the lack of a proactive welcome message on behalf of the nation,” Heywood said. New York has put up its own signs saying “New York City – Welcoming the World” in England, Germany and Mexico.

There’s only one problem with that prediction, as seen in the New York Times: It was reported in late February, when everyone was in “Woe is us” mode, supposedly because of Trump. That Times article’s headline: “New York Expects Fewer Foreign Tourists, Saying Trump Is to Blame.”

Cross-posted, with slight revisions, at NewsBusters.org.

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2 Comments

  1. You need to compare like with like.

    The ‘Trump Slump’ referred to a slump in air bookings to the USA after Donald Trump first announced his travel ban and it lasted until the courts struck down the ban.

    Air bookings to the USA have not performed well since then.

    The data Roger Dow is referring to includes other foms of transport to the USA and domestic travel.

    In most countries domestic travel is bigger than international travel and on a global level travel grows ahead of inflation.

    Therefore it is quite possible for travel to be healthy in a destination which is losing its market share of international travellers.

    Comment by David Tarsh — July 19, 2017 @ 3:35 am

  2. What did I miss? The “slump” in air bookings lasted eight days, and was made up over the next 49.

    The 6.6 percent and 5 percent increases in April in May were in “international travel to the U.S.” using an index which surely considers air bookings (if you have other data showing “bookings” not performing well, a link would be nice).

    The post was about international travel to the U.S. which was supposed to go into a long-term slump thanks to Trump’s presence — and hasn’t.

    Comment by Tom — July 19, 2017 @ 8:01 am

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