It should go without saying that any U.S. travel ban will reduce incoming travel. That, after all, is the point. But when the Trump administration moved, so far unsuccessfully, to restrict travel from predominately Muslim nations it believed were terrorism risks, the reaction was swift: Potential visitors from many other nations canceled their trips.
According to The Washington Post, an estimated 4.3 million fewer people will visit the United States this year, resulting in $7.4 billion in lost revenue. Next year the loss is forecast to grow by nearly half again, and it may blow up fast if the administration institutes “extreme vetting” even for visitors from allied nations. Few travelers want to share their mobile phone contacts, social media passwords and financial information with a foreign government, and who can blame them?
Predictably, travel from Muslim-majority nations has decreased significantly, which presumably is what the president wanted to accomplish. While the revised ban is held up in court, though, it’s not deterring terrorists; it’s discouraging tourists who are expressing their opinions about the administration by spending their leisure dollars elsewhere. Demand for air travel from such friendly nations as Ireland and New Zealand is down by at least a third. Oddly, searches for flights from Russia have jumped 60 percent.
That’s a problem because foreign tourists effectively import money to the United States. They pay for lodging and meals, they buy souvenirs, and because many are either affluent individuals or middle-class families on once-in-a-lifetime trips, they tend to splurge.
Their spending ripples through tourism-dependent economies, including those in Southwest Colorado where locals are accustomed to hearing foreign languages from visitors at ski resorts, national parks and monuments.
Hospitality workers – including those who are foreign nationals themselves, documented or not – pay rent and buy groceries. Admission fees help fund attractions. Foreign visitors also contribute sales-tax revenue for counties and municipalities.
The Trump administration needs to understand that foreigners are listening to its rhetoric, and that the international tourism industry should not be sacrificed needlessly.
The U.S. economy, like many other matters the president is confronting, is more complicated than he realizes.