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President Donald Trump’s first year in office was tumultuous for the travel industry. Pictured is Trump speaking at a campaign rally for now-former Senator Luther Strange, a Republican, in Huntsville, Alabama in September 2017. Evan Vucci / Associated Press
As United States President Donald Trump’s first year in office ends later this month, there’s no question that the president already left his mark on the global travel industry regardless of your political leanings.
Trump took office on January 20, 2017, and by many measures,.
Since January 2017, Trump issued multiple travel bans, which faced legal challenges; international arrivals to the U.S. have dropped; the White House reintroduced Cuba travel restrictions, and hurricanes ravaged parts of the Caribbean, including U.S. territory Puerto Rico, which still has about half of the population without electricity, and the Gulf Coast.
, a benchmark for assessing a president’s initial performance in terms of keeping campaign promises and making legislative achievements, set the tone for the rest of the year. By the time Trump’s first 100 days ended on April 29, Skift’s editorial team had already reported on hospitality CEOs’ concerns; some U.S. airlines’ high hopes; booking site CEOs’ activist roles, mostly in opposition to Trump, and tourism board worries that they wouldn’t meet their international visitation goals in 2017.
Many U.S. airline and hotel CEOs, however, have praised the U.S. tax bill’s passage on December 22 – the Trump Administration’s signature legislative achievement in 2017. Travel executives such as Best Western CEO David Kong, Delta Air Lines CFO Paul Jacobson, and Priceline Group CEO Glenn Fogel, for instance,
But while much of corporate America is, other companies and organizations are anxious about White House executive orders or Congressional legislation to come. Many international travelers are likely wondering if they’ll encounter trouble at U.S. Customs checkpoints.
Still, Trump brought attention to an important travel industry agenda item during his first year in office – a much-needed, massive transportation infrastructure investment bill. But infrastructure bills tend to get drowned out when the president continues to trumpet ideas such as a border wall with Mexico.
Following is a look back at the Trump Administration’s actions in 2017 that impacted various travel industry sectors and what to watch in each of these areas in 2018.
First Stop: Travel Ban 1.0
went into effect on January 27, 2017 and barred arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries throughout the Middle East. Two other versions of the travel ban followed throughout the year as each version was challenged in U.S. federal courts.
The travel ban eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed an amended version to go into effect,.
The first ban led to demonstrations and chaos at major U.S. airports and led some travel industry executives to speak out in opposition.An additional array of meetings planners and companies also .
in January, in anticipation of the president’s travel ban and rhetoric about building a border wall with Mexico. And a survey in March from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives .
about the ban and worry that it could be extended to include larger markets of more significance to U.S. tourism and business travel.
A Trump Slump Takes Shape
International tourism arrivals are down four percent through July 2017, the most recent month for which data are available from the U.S. Department of Commerce. A decline had started in late 2016 and extended into 2017, and data from the peak summer travel season of June to August has started to trickle in.
That data show summer 2017 wasn’t a banner season. Overseas arrivals for June were down 7.6 percent year-over-year and decreased 9.3 percent for July while Mexican arrivals were off 16.1 percent in June and fell 3.4 percent in July. Canadian arrivals, however, bucked the trend and, except for May, grew each month and are up 4.6 percent year-to-date through July.
CEO Roger Dow said that the U.S. economy loses $2.5 billion for each point decrease in international arrivals. “So if we’re down four points, that’s a $10 billion loss in revenue that we didn’t have in the U.S. that we could have and should have had,” said Dow, in December for “No Vacancy with Glenn Haussman.”
NYC & Company, New York City’s tourism board, said in February thatdue in part to the president’s xenophobic rhetoric, travel ban and hard-line stance on immigration.
Some U.S. cities, including New York City, launched overseas marketing campaigns in direct response to the president’s unwelcoming message towards foreigners. In April,after it did some calculations and found that international arrivals wouldn’t grow as staunchly in 2017 compared to past years in part because of the president’s controversial rhetoric.
in an attempt to reassure the travel industry about the Trump Administration’s support. But since then, the administration hasn’t done much to help promote international travel to the U.S.
Other destinations, travel industry organizations,, for example, insisted that there wasn’t any evidence of a – yet. that showed a “substantially more pessimistic assessment” of travel to the U.S., warning of “major storm clouds for the inbound international travel market,” according to the organization. International visitation actually contracted in four of the first seven months of the year, .
Dow said that the decline in international travelers likely has less to do with who’s in the Oval Office. “We’ve done a lot of research even before Trump was president and we know that people who travel are able to separate politics and place,” said Dow.
“If you’re coming from Europe, Asia or Mexico to the U.S. it’s costing you a lot more to stay and shop,” said Dow. “Weaker economies around the world such as in Latin America with Brazil and Argentina have been having a particularly tough time.”
Increase in airline capacities around the world is also a factor in why fewer international travelers aren’t coming, said Dow. “In Europe and Asia there’s an explosion of new aircraft being bought by carriers such as Ryanair, Wow Air, Turkish Air and the Middle East carriers and they’re all growing phenomenally,” he said. “To meet their demands and needs with all this increased capacity, they’re offering some spectacular fares to go around Europe and Asia and we don’t even see that in the U.S.”
The U.S., despite being expensive in major markets on the east and west coasts, for example, still has bargains to offer, said Dow. “I think the industry has to do a better job at talking about the bargain destinations in their area.”
International arrivals data for August through December haven’t been released, but many signs point to a continued slump in arrivals – due to Trump or otherwise – through the end of 2017 and into 2018.
Trump’s First Budget Had Bad News For Tourism
The White House released the president’s first budget for fiscal 2018 in March and it contained a few cuts aimed squarely at the travel industry. Some of the funding for the, Amtrak and air traffic control would be re-allocated to building Trump’s border wall with Mexico.
Brand USA, the organization that markets U.S. destination to international travelers,. to keep marketing the U.S. and as of the end of December it’s escaped the line of fire and will remain funded.
If Trump’s first budget was a reminder of anything, it’s that travel industry agenda items are often the first proposed funding cuts when money gets tight.
Laptop Ban Cleared For Take-Off
On March 25, the Trump Administration barred travelers flying from eight Middle East airports from carrying their laptops onboard aircrafts. Instead, laptops would have to be checked and couldn’t be accessed during a flight.
The ban was largely seen as an attempt by the Trump Administration tothat compete with U.S. carriers on long-haul international travel. , but that didn’t materialize.
By July, the laptop ban was lifted for most carriers and was another sign of what the new White House Administration was capable of doing on behalf of an ally in the Middle East.
A group of U.S. airline CEOs, including Ed Bastian from Delta Air Lines and Oscar Munoz from United Airlines,. Air traffic control problems, delays, excessive regulations, and foreign competition were all subjects of conversation in the meeting.
The CEOs emerged from the meeting and seemed pleased with discussions. A week before the meeting, Etihad Airways vowed not to add more U.S. flights.
In July, a U.S. airline advocacy group launched. And in December, the Trump Administration with Qatar and the U.A.E. to discuss Open Skies. , Trump seems unlikely to take as tough a stance on the Gulf Carriers as the Obama Administration but the White House will try to push for more transparency.
Jobs Growth Starts Strong
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that tourism and hospitality employment, such as flight attendants, hotel front desk staff and museum and attractions staff, grew by 128,000 jobs year-over-year from January to April 2017. That four-month period coincided with the president’s first 100 days in office and.
Although the U.S. travel industry added nearly 20 percent fewer jobs during the first four months of 2017 than the 158,700 hires made from January 2016 to April 2016, much of the weaker growth was from travel agencies and restaurants. The latter is included in leisure and hospitality jobs data although much of the restaurant business doesn’t come from tourism.
. WTTC data show that U.S. travel jobs growth lags behind other robust tourism economies.
As of December 31, the most recent month for which jobs data are available, the U.S. travel industry employed about 309,000 fewer people than it did on December 31, 2016 (15.7 million versus 15.3 million, respectively).
Trump Hotels Announced a New Brand
In June,. The company said the new brand would be marketed as a three-star, midscale brand that’s budget-friendly. At the time of the announcement, the brand had three signed agreements, all for properties to be located in the Mississippi Delta area of the U.S.
Other Trump brands, however, didn’t have much good news to report during 2017.after a Dallas developer said he was no longer interested in working with the Trump Organization on the project. The Trump SoHo Hotel in New York City said in November that , noting that it was struggling to attract business. The Trump International Hotel in Panama .
The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. is perhaps one of the company’s only bright spots. Lobbyists and foreign diplomats with business in the capital have helped the hotel notch substantial profits since it opened in October 2016.
, Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger said that that the company wouldn’t pursue any international deals while President Trump was in office and instead will focus on domestic growth. But the company’s domestic ambitions .
Cuba Individual P2P Visas Were Eliminated
for U.S. citizens, which had been legalized in 2016 under the Obama Administration. This wasn’t the worst-case scenario that many had feared for good reason – if Trump reversed all Obama-era policies and banned all U.S. travel to Cuba.
The U.S. Department of State also released a list of hotels that U.S. travelers will be barred from as part of the policy change,which is owned by Marriott International. Marriott remains the sole U.S. hotel operator in Cuba.
but acknowledged that Americans want to go there. AccorHotels CEO Sebastien Bazin and Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian echoed Sorenson, and Hoplamazian has said Hyatt is in active discussions to open properties in the country.
Many tour operators,, criticized Trump’s Cuba policy stance and soon after the announcement, .
To add to the drama,in response to alleged sonic attacks at the U.S. Embassy and hotels in Havana. The travel warning came a little more than a month before Trump’s changes took effect on November 9.
Trump’s decision aside, Cuba has also been a mixed bag for cruise lines and airlines. Norwegian Cruise Line maintained throughout last yearwhile Royal Caribbean and Carnival, for example, have said Cuba
, , and also announced they were cutting Cuba flights last year . and American Airlines have increased their U.S.-Cuba capacity, though the latter previously .
The president’s decision to change U.S. policy on Cuba largely stems from a campaign promise to a small supporter base of Cuban expats in Miami. Americans can still go to Cuba, albeit with a tour group, but any demand that travelers had for individual travel has been put on hold because of the changes.
Puerto Rico’s Ongoing Humanitarian Crisis
A U.S. territory a little more than 600 miles to the southeast of Cuba – Puerto Rico – also felt a backlash from Trump last year.
But in Puerto Rico’s case, it involved more than 80 percent of the population being without electricity in the weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through the island in September and an unofficial death toll that could be more than 1,000,. The U.S. Virgin Islands was also hit hard by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and are still recovering.
Texas and Florida were also hit by hurricanes last year but the federal government’s response to those scenarios was much quicker and more effective.
After Maria passed Puerto Rico,which in part criticized its financial crisis and questioned how long Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel and resources could stay in the territory. and saw the hurricane as an opportunity to revamp the destination.
The federal government treated Puerto Rico’s recovery much differently than it handled that of destinations on the U.S. mainland, and some critics have compared Trump’s handling of Puerto to President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. Many destinations are probably wondering, “will Trump have our backs if disaster strikes?”
National Parks and Monuments in Jeopardy
A group of U.S. National Monuments came under threat last year after Trumpinitiating a review of more than two dozen National Monuments. National Monuments in and were part of the review and in December Trump announced his intentions to shrink two Utah monuments. .
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in August thatbut will press the president to change some boundaries and possibly ease certain environmental restrictions at some monuments. Meanwhile, problems persist at some popular U.S. National Parks, including , lengthy maintenance backlogs, and a .
It’s true that the entire national park system was facing massive mismanagement problems for decades before Trump entered the political arena. What’s less clear is whether this administration will do anything to curtail the maintenance backlog and get the ship back on course. Our prediction? Don’t hold your breath.
Visa Programs in Limbo
showed a photo of then-Trump strategist Steven Bannon posing in front of a whiteboard that listed some of the administration’s agenda items, .
One of the items, “Sunset our visa laws so that Congress is forced to revise and revisit them,” further illuminated fears that some visa programs for foreign workers and international travelers were on the chopping block. Since the whiteboard tweet, the White House announced plansand said it’s considering making changes to or eliminating the popular .
It goes without saying that the Trump Administration isn’t above cutting visa programs: Just consider its Muslim travel ban and efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also announced in December thatand issued new requirements to member countries if they want to stay in the program.
Suffice it to say, expect challenges to visa programs that impact international travelers to make more headlines in 2018.
Does Infrastructure Overall Have a Prayer?
After passing the largest tax reform in decades, the Trump Administration’s first big legislative endeavor in 2018 is slated to be an infrastructure improvement bill, which would includeand rebuilding aging airports, for example. But the bill appears to be coming unglued and some members of Congress questioned the vitality of the public-private partnership component of the bill.
Trump’s fiscal 2018 budgetAfter the $1.5 trillion tax reform bill became law, Congress doesn’t have as much money to work with on infrastructure. The fate of that initiative is among many things we’ll be watching in 2018.