Those of us who live here may not realize it, but the United States is one of the top tourism destinations in the world. In 2015, the U.S. trailed only France in the number of international arrivals, with 78 million people coming to the United States from overseas. Tourism added over $200 billion to the economy that year, a little over 1 percent of the total annual GDP.
In 2016, 12.7 million tourists came to New York City alone, according to marketing agency NYC & Company. But in 2017, the picture is likely to be different, with about 12.4 million visitors expected.
Why? President Trump.
“The Europeans start coming to New York around Easter and continue through summer,” the head of NYC & Company told the New York Times. “That’s when you’ll see the rhetoric out of Washington really having an impact on travel.”
An expert interviewed by the Times figured that the number of tourists nationally would drop by over 6 million people by 2018. If you applied that drop to the 2015 numbers and figured that every tourist spent about the same amount, that’s a decrease of $15 billion in revenue.
There are a few reasons that tourism is likely to drop.
The most obvious is the revamped ban on migration that Trump signed Monday. By explicitly barring people from six countries, the effects are simple: Tourists from those countries will not be admitted.
[Revised executive order bans travelers from six Muslim-majority countries from getting new visas]
More broadly, though, the increased attention to cross-border migration has meant more people being turned away as they try to enter the country. There are any number of stories — anecdotal, of course — about people seeking entry who were denied it. A Canadian woman born to Indian parents was turned away as she tried to enter Vermont with a Canadian passport and told she needed a visa. A New York gallery owner born in Argentina was denied entry to the United States, despite being a legal resident for a decade. A children’s book author from Australia. A scholar from France. People have been turned away at points of entry to the United States forever, of course, but the increased attention to these incidents will certainly deter people from taking the risk.
The government of Nigeria issued a warning to its citizens about travel to the United States, citing confusion about rules for entry. The government pointed to several recent incidents of people being denied entry despite holding valid visas.
Then there are high-profile acts of violence. When two Indian men were shot during an apparently racially motivated attack near Kansas City, Kan., family members of the men, one of whom died, issued a warning to their fellow countrymen.
“There is a kind of hysteria spreading that is not good because so many of our beloved children live there,” one said to the media. The father of the man wounded in the attack had stronger words.
“The situation seems to be pretty bad after Trump took over as the U.S. president,” he said. “I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the United States in the present circumstances.”
What's most important from where the world meets Washington
[‘I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children’ to the U.S., distraught father says after shooting]
The effects on tourism are not theoretical. On Monday, Reuters reported on data from flight-analysis firm ForwardKeys. Their numbers suggested that inbound travel fell 6.5 percent during the eight days after the first Trump immigration ban was announced. Those figures recovered when a court blocked the ban from being enacted, but, once the administration announced plans for its revised ban, those numbers dropped again. Bookings from the Middle East dropped 27 percent after the ban.
What economic effect might result from the new politics of immigration remains to be seen. But tourism will almost certainly be negatively affected. In the wake of the new executive order, the National Restaurant Association quickly put out a statement expressing its concerns.
“We must balance our safety and security with the importance of the economic contributions of travel and tourism to our country as we are already seeing negative effects the previous Executive Order is having on our economy,” Executive Vice President Cicely Simpson wrote.
In January, the entire leisure and hospitality industry employed 15.79 million people in the United States. Not all of those people deal with international travelers. Over the next few months, though, it seems likely that even fewer will.