A jet passes overhead at Denver International Airport, which offers direct international flights to Mexico, Canada, Japan, Great Britain and Germany(Photo: Trevor Hughes/USA TODAY)
International travelers appear to have lost a little faith in the United States, with a significant drop in the number of would-be visitors searching for airplane tickets, a new analysis shows.
Overall, airfare searches from international destinations to the United States have dropped 17% since President Trump’s inauguration, according to the flight-data services firm Hopper. Searches from the seven countries included in the now-halted travel ban dropped 33% in the same period, the company said. The one notable exception: searches from Russia to the United States, which have leapt 88%, the company said. The drop includes some surprising countries, including Ireland, where travel searches to the U.S. have also dropped 33%.
International travel experts say the way the Trump administration has handled the ban -- and Trump’s election itself – has prompted many would-be travelers to reconsider visiting the United States. Trump has picked fights with Mexico and Australia, and seen the speaker of the House of Commons in England declare that he’s not welcome to address a joint session of Parliament. In Ireland, travelers “panicked” and canceled trips over the uncertainty, said Pat Dawson, president of the Irish Travel Agents Association.
“The constant battles the president is having with different countries does not send out a welcoming message and is making American and Americans more insular,” Dawson said. “America has always been very good to the Irish and up to now we always felt, right or wrong, we had a special relationship with its people and in particular its president, no matter what party he or she came from.”
Dawson said Irish airlines have begun discounting flights in an effort to reverse the travel trend, and hopes the situation changes “for both our countries sakes’.”
International travelers are a massive source of income for American businesses, from the tourists renting RVs to see the Grand Canyon to travelers buying Broadway tickets or visiting iconic cities like New Orleans and Chicago. They also ride Amtrak across the West, help keep Vermont’s apple orchards churning out cider, and flock to Florida’s theme parks. Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom are the top three home countries of international visitors to the United States, which saw more than 21 million international visitors in the first half of 2016. Data reflecting year-end 2016 totals and January 2017 has not yet been made public.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering the administration's appeal of a judge's order striking down Trump's travel order of late last month. A Seattle-based judge ruled that Trump exceeded his authority when he halted travel to the United States from seven Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
While the ban applied only to those countries, travelers from all over the world have gotten suddenly cautious, said Zane Kerby, the CEO of the American Society of Travel Agents. Kerby said his members are also reporting that some American companies are pulling back their foreign national employees to this country, in case the ban suddenly expands, and also delaying travel abroad over fears about how welcomed they’ll be, given the mass street protests and international headlines about the Trump travel ban. Some travelers, he said, seem to be saying they just don’t want to bother traveling to a country that’s suddenly seeing an uproar over who can visit.
“They’re unwilling to take that risk,” Kerby said. “Broadly, it’s really clear from our members that the actions of the past few weeks has injected a great deal of uncertainty in to the travel industry.”
Kerby said that uncertainty could cause tourists to lose faith in America as an ideal, something he said can only be maintained by person-to-person communication. Whether the current situation extends depends significantly on how the administration moves forward, he said.
“When we lose that trust, it’s very hard to get back,” he said. “It wasn’t built overnight, and I don’t think it can be lost overnight, but I go back to that thing my dad always said: You earn trust in drops and lose it in buckets.”