Update: Fly the Unfriendly Skies to the U.S.? Fewer Are Willing, Reports Find
Mem Fox, a popular Australian author who writes children’s books often dealing with tolerance and acceptance, was also detained last month. She said she was interrogated aggressively at Los Angeles International Airport for allegedly having the wrong visa before being allowed to continue to Milwaukee for a conference.
“In that moment, I loathed America,” Ms. Fox wrote of her experience for The Guardian. “I loathed the entire country. And it was my 117th visit to the country, so I know that most people are very generous and warmhearted.”
Other notable figures who have been wrongly detained at airports include Sidd Bikkannavar, an Indian-American NASA scientist and Muhammad Ali Jr. Both are natural-born citizens. Mr. Ali was asked repeatedly by customs officials if he were Muslim, according to family friend and lawyer Chris Mancini.
More recently, an Afghan family was detained for four days, despite the father’s having worked for the American government in Afghanistan for 10 years.
While several travelers of note have had problems entering the United States over the years for various reasons, Mr. Rousso said he has never seen it “to this extent.”
“Due to such a number of similar stories in the last weeks,” Mr. Rousso said, “I presume that some tourists will hesitate to fly to the U.S. for a while, especially if they are coming from ‘problematic’ countries or if they have children or elders with them. Why take such a risk to be treated like a criminal?”
Mr. Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 with the stated purpose of keeping “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the United States. It suspended visa entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Sudan and Yemen.
The order was quickly challenged in court, and an effort by Mr. Trump to restore the ban in full was rejected by a federal appeals court on Feb. 9. But that did not stop Mr. Rousso and others from being wrongfully detained, and the overall effect on the United States’ tourism industry has already been measured by several travel companies, showing a broad decline of interest in booking flights from international travelers.
“It’s the message that’s gone out around the world, that the U.S. is potentially closing for business,” said David Scowsill, the chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council. “Trump’s administration has made it clear that they will be inward-facing to ‘Make America Great Again,’ and this has led to an anti-foreign sentiment in the country.”
In analyzing data from British travelers, the travel search engine Kayak found that searches for flights to key cities in the United States had “fallen off a cliff,” especially for 2017 holidays.
A revised version of the executive order, announced on March 6, excludes Iraq from the list of restricted countries and exempts citizens of the other six countries who have valid visas or are permanent residents of the United States. (Hawaii, Washington and New York are among the states challenging the revised travel ban in court.)
“Clearly this revised order is very encouraging news if you’re looking to come to the U.S. from Iraq,” Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement. “The question remains whether the revised order did enough to mollify the prospective traveler from Canada, Europe or elsewhere around the world who may have been put off by the initial travel ban.”
A study from the farecasting app Hopper showed a significant drop in searches for travel to the United States from 122 origin countries from late December 2016 through Feb. 22. And further analysis through March 6, when the revised order took effect, showed flight searches remained down about 10 percent in comparison to the same period a year earlier.
Hopper’s data also shows a correlation between news media reports on the travel ban and a decreased interest in booking travel to the United States.
“It seems that as the travel ban becomes featured in the news cycle, regardless of whether it’s in favor or against the travel ban,” said Patrick Surry, the chief data scientist for Hopper, “it may be reminding travelers that there’s a lot of uncertainty around whether international travelers are welcome in the U.S. and flight search demand then drops.”
Mr. Surry said it was still too early to tell whether his study showed a short-term reaction to the travel ban or whether it will affect tourism to the United States in the long run. “Travel is a multibillion dollar industry for the U.S.,” he said. “So even if tourism decreases just a few percentage points, it could have serious effects on the industry.”
Mr. Scowsill said he believed the revised order didn’t do enough to reverse the negative perception created by the original travel ban.
“The only way of changing a negative perception is by doing some positive things,” Mr. Scowsill said. ”And positive things are: promoting the U.S. as a tourism destination and making it easier for people to come in.” Expanding the use of electronic visa processing would help with the latter, he added.
The timing of these reports come just as the United States tourism industry seemed to have finally regained the losses incurred after the attacks of Sept. 11, according to the U.S. Travel Association. The industry lost $600 billion in the decade after Sept. 11, 2002, according to the association.
“A decade and a half of sound policy making from administrations and congresses controlled by both political parties has enabled America to rebound,” Mr. Dow said in early February.
But by early March, the association expressed concern, saying that Mr. Trump’s order “has had a broad chilling effect on demand for international travel to the United States.”
Mr. Scowsill said he is worried about what the Trump administration’s stricter immigration policies might mean for tourism in the United States going forward.
“The United States is in danger of taking the same path it took after the 9/11 terror attacks, which led to a decade of economic stagnation in the travel and tourism sector,” Mr. Scowsill said.
Still, he said he is hopeful that Mr. Trump’s business sensibilities will win out in the end, adding that the United States’ travel and tourism sectors generate over 8 percent of the country’s GDP and support nearly 10 percent of the country’s employment.
“President Trump, given his business background,” Mr. Scowsill said, ”with his leisure and hotel and golfing interests, he really does understand that more people coming into the country means more American jobs.”
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