A marked decrease in international travelers to the U.S. following Trump’s initial ban on travel from seven countries, already seen in data from different parts of the travel industry, could end up taking a bite out of Hawaii’s visitor industry.
The problem seems to be that the U.S. is suddenly perceived as an unstable and unwelcoming place for international visitors as a result of the ban and the resulting global publicity.
The New York Times reported last week that travel bookings to U.S. destinations dropped after Trump’s ban was announced. Online searches indicating potential interest in future travel dropped as much as 47%, according to the Time’s review of data from a number of travel sites. See NY Times, “After Travel Ban, Interest in Trips to U.S. Declines,” February 20, 2017.
The short-term weaker demand for travel to the United States aside, the bigger concern for travel analysts is the ban’s potential to damage the country’s lucrative tourism industry in the coming years. Statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, part of the United States Department of Commerce, show that tourism-related spending in the United States was $1.56 trillion in 2015; tourism created 7.6 million jobs in the United States that same year.
According to Adam Sacks, the president of Tourism Economics, part of the economic research firm Oxford Economics, President Trump’s executive order is part of a broader policy platform and “America first” rhetoric that is creating international antipathy toward the United States and already affecting traveler behavior.
Earlier this month, his group conducted a study of travel to Los Angeles County and found that the county could suffer a potential three-year loss of 800,000 international visitors as a direct result of the ban, the equivalent of $736 million in tourism spending.
“It doesn’t take a lot of uncertainty or adverse sentiment to affect travel decisions,” Mr. Sacks said.
In a tweet on Sunday, economist and columnist Paul Krugman observed: “Tourism and education are surprisingly big U.S. exports, almost surely creating more jobs than, say, coal.” His tweet included a chart showing income from travel.
A friend emailed me wondering what the situation is at Honolulu International Airport? Is the “welcome” less welcoming than it used to be?
These are important issues for Hawaii’s overall economy, and any negative results are going to quickly trickle down to the rest of us.