Europe The Big Winner As Trump's Policies May Cost U.S. Millions Of Visitors
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While the stock market enjoys a “Trump bump,” international travel to the United States is projected to descend into a Trump slump to the tune of 6.3 million visitors lost over the next year. As the EU considers fighting back by limiting American travel without a visa, international tourism could shift dramatically this year and ripple through the hotel industry.
A record 77.5 million international tourists visited the United States in 2015. Record-breaking moments like these will become distant memories due to White House policies turning off global travelers, according to one American economic advisory firm. Wayne, Pa.-based Tourism Economics reports President Donald Trump’s travel ban is creating a perfect trifecta with a strong dollar and weak global economy to torpedo tourism to the U.S. over the next year.
The result: Hotel bookings will likely migrate from the U.S. to Europe and Asia.
Tourism Economics president Adam Sacks has revised the National Travel & Tourism Office’s 2017 forecast for 3% growth in international tourism to account for growing negative sentiment toward the “America First” rhetoric propagated by the White House. At the beginning of the year, STR and Tourism Economics had forecast a 0.3% decrease in occupancy in U.S. hotels but a RevPAR bump of 2.5% in 2017, spurred by increased travel to the U.S.
Sacks now predicts a 3% contraction in international tourism, leading to $10B in lost revenue.
“We’re seeing where these travel policies have a greater-than-anticipated impact, because now there is this tipping point in what had been a resilient performance streak in tourism to the United States,” Sacks said.
America’s loss will be Europe’s gain. London hotels had a strong February, with STR tracking a 2.7% bump in occupancy year-over-year and 7.5% increase in RevPAR. PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts growth in almost every European hotel market in 2017 and 2018, with the Portuguese city of Porto expected to continue its three-year RevPAR growth streak with a 14.8% increase in 2017. Dublin has the second-highest growth forecast with 8.7%. Madrid, Lisbon and Barcelona are also expected to be strong European hotel markets this year.
UNWTO projects 2% to 3% tourism growth in Europe in 2017, saying "travel and hotels should benefit from rising U.S. purchasing power abroad."
Sacks said British travelers who would have visited the United States will now look to Mediterranean Europe, as it is closer and cheaper. The Caribbean, Canada and Mexico are also jockeying to compete for British tourism. Tourism Economics forecasts the U.S. will also lose 525,000 trips in 2018 that would normally have come from Japan, China and Korea; those travelers will go to Western Europe, Canada and Asia instead. A tourniquet to halt these losses does not seem likely.
“How long it lasts depends on how much new media comes out,” Sacks said. “If left to settle, we wouldn’t expect travel effects to last much into 2017, but that would require the administration to take a new course. Instead, it’s doubling down and fanning headlines.”
Hoteliers and airlines are bracing for the impact of fewer international tourists heading to the United States. Emirates Airlines president Tim Clark announced last week that his airline saw bookings to the U.S. immediately tumble 35% after the first iteration of Trump’s travel ban was rolled out in January. Kayak reported searches from UK users to the U.S. were down 39% the week after Trump’s inauguration, and EU demand for trips to America declined 14% in January. Yotel chief development officer Jason Brown is concerned this is an emerging long-term trend from short-sighted policy.
“There's a real desire on two fronts not to travel to the U.S. anymore. One is a moral high ground people really see as boycotting the U.S. That has had an immediate impact,” Brown said. “The more disturbing long-term trend is the U.S. is not as important anymore in a lot of regards to what they see as an Asian influence in global leadership. [Business travelers] are going to Hong Kong and Tokyo, not New York.”
Other hospitality experts are not sold the industry is in such a perilous position and say it is simply too soon to make a judgment. Marriott will maintain the growth pace it set before its merger with Starwood, meaning a new Marriott Group hotel will open every 15 hours over the course of 2017. The international brand looks past short-term policy, said American University’s Washington School of Law’s hospitality and tourism law director Steven Shapiro.
“This is an epic merger,” Shapiro said. "They are undaunted by immediate geopolitical issues and are probably looking ahead to 18 months to see what’s happening before making any decisions."
While the travel ban dominates headlines, another policy could make European travel more difficult for Americans. The EU could potentially halt visa-free travel for American visitors as soon as June 15. The move would be in response to the U.S. not allowing citizens of EU member countries Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania into its Visa Waiver Program.
Those countries do not meet the security criteria for inclusion due to too many of their citizens getting rejected for U.S. visas — usually because they are suspected of staying too long in the U.S. for economic reasons. While few expect the EU to actually go through with its threat, experts on the matter say the United States should do more to welcome international visitors.
Jena Baker McNeill, senior director of government relations at the U.S. Travel Association, recognizes the perception issue abroad that makes people from other countries — and not just the six predominantly Muslim countries in the crosshairs of the new travel ban that is set to take effect — not feel welcome. She said resolution is achievable and hopes for diplomatic avenues to be used, as an inviting America only helps the country’s pocketbook.
“You have the ability to do security and keep the welcome mat out,” McNeill said. “They aren’t mutually exclusive.”