On Monday, President Donald Trump unveiled a revised "travel ban" blocking visitors from six Muslim-majority nations. Just like Trump's original travel ban issued in January, this new ban is cruelly arbitrary in its design and discriminatory in its intent. Rather than keeping out terrorists, this policy targets nations whose citizens have collectively been responsible for zero deadly terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
The political debates around both versions of Trump's travel ban have rightly focused on the human and moral costsnof such a policy. But a growingchorus of experts and industry leaders are also sounding the alarm about another group of individuals who will be directly harmed by Trump's travel and immigration policies: the nearly 8 million Americans whose jobs depend on the 75 million foreign tourists that visit the United States each year. These Americans work in a tourism sector that accounts for a remarkable quarter-trillion dollars in U.S. exports each year, money that supports American jobs and communities.
Initial data suggests that a "Trump slump" in tourism may well be materializing: Oxford Economics predicts that foreign travel to the U.S. could drop by 8 percent, or 6.3 million visitors, this coming year. Travel sites have reported massive declines in searches from the UK for travel to Tampa, Orlando, Miami, San Diego, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The Global Business Travel Association estimates that Trump's policies have already cost the U.S. travel industry nearly $200 million. Meanwhile, New York City is predicting 300,000 fewer foreign tourists than last year at a cost of $600 million – a figure revised sharply down after Trump won. And the U.S. Travel Association warned that Trump's executive orders "had a broad chilling effect on demand for international travel to the United States." The flight firm Hopper found declining flight search demand for U.S. travel from 94 of 122 countries.
Think this has nothing to do with Trump? The only country where demand for flight search demand grew was Russia, Hopper found.
Why would banning travel from five poor, war-torn Arab countries and Iran threaten the global flow of tourists into America? Just picture how recent news looks to would-be travelers around the world. Muslims in other nations understand Trump's visa policies much as the courts did – as fulfilling Trump's promises to ban Muslims. Coupled with a wave of hate crimes, burned mosques and the anti-immigrant shootings of Indians since Trump's victory, the ban leaves many foreign travelers wary of visiting a place where they fear they may be treated with hostility or even violence. Then there are the multiplying cautionary tales of Trump's "unshackled" immigration enforcement, from disrespectful questioning of the son of boxer Mohammed Ali to the handcuffing of a 5-year-old boy separated from his mother and detained for hours during the first travel ban. Word of these stories travels.
I served in the Obama administration, traveling to dozens of countries as a staffer to Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Alongside security and geopolitics, there was a consistent focus on bringing more tourists, more students, more businessmen – and therefore more money and jobs – to America. As the Trump team proposes massive State Department budget cuts, there's a risk that neither the priority focus nor the needed personnel will be place to carry this mission onward.
The Department of Commerce estimates that every 65 additional visitors to the United States creates one American job. So, instead of issuing a Trump-style visa ban, the Obama administration launched a "consular surge" deploying extra staff that reduced visa processing times in the fast-growing economies of China and Brazil from several months to just five days. President Barack Obama also launched Brand USA, a public-private partnership to market America as a travel destination. His team signed Open Skies agreements lowering costs for air travel between U.S. and foreign cities and instituted a streamlined Global Entry program for heavily-vetted frequent visitors. Such measures seem abstract, until you realize that the average foreign visitor spends $4,500 in America on everything from clothing to condos, in places from Miami and Las Vegas to Mount Rushmore and the Rockies.
Nobody disputes that America should do whatever is necessary to secure the country. The intense vetting measures already in place can always be improved. But Trump's executive order is a solution in search of a problem.
Of course, America remains a great – and overwhelmingly safe – place to visit. And to be sure, tourism is driven by many factors, especially the relative strength of the dollar. But to appreciate the impact of Trump's travel ban and anti-immigrant policies on tourism, I need only to think of my own immigrant family's injunction not to visit anywhere that is on the evening news.
The irony in all of this is that America's marketer-in-chief is damaging America's brand – and the self-declared "America-first" president is keeping foreigners' money out of Americans' hands. Foreign tourists do not get to vote in American elections, but they will vote with their feet. Let's hope that President Obama's record tourism numbers do not give way to a "Trump slump."
Corrected on March 9, 2017: An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized travel search growth. Russia is the only country where travel searches grew significantly.