When the U.S. government advises its citizens from traveling abroad, it often has a chilling effect on that country’s tourism industry. Now America may be entering a freeze of its own, as the fallout from its new visa and immigration policy has globetrotters anxious about traveling to and from the U.S.
That’s what some travel agents across the nation are starting to report, according to the American Society of Travel Agents, which is gathering information from its members to measure the impact of the restrictions.
Though it’s been less than two weeks since President Donald Trump tightened some visa requirements and temporarily banned visitors from seven Middle Eastern and African countries, travel agents are already reporting that clients are rethinking trips to the U.S., according to association President Zane Kerby. The administration is appealing restraining orders that suspended its ban.
Many would-be travelers are concerned Trump will win the appeal and eventually expand the scope of his restrictions to include their countries. Some immigrants and visa-holders living in the U.S. are scrapping trips on fears they won’t be allowed to return back home. And a growing number of Americans are concerned about taking vacations abroad, saying they may receive a hostile reception from people upset about U.S. policy, Kerby said.
“The developments of the last week have injected a great deal of uncertainty into the travel industry,” he said by phone on Feb. 2. “This is high season for travel agents. The phone right now should be ringing off the hook, and it’s just not.”
Anbritt Stengele, the head of agency Sports Traveler, vented her concerns when the association contacted her about the visa restrictions, pointing out that televised images of protests at airports have been particularly harmful to the U.S. reputation as a travel destination.
To be sure, it’s too soon to say with any certainty whether the Trump administration’s policies will have a lasting impact on airline and hotel business, especially in a year when economic growth in the U.S. and world as a whole is expected to pick up, which may loosen the purse strings of potential travelers. And people banned from entering the U.S. under the new policy represent less than 1 percent of total visitors — though their numbers have been growing — and the government’s focus on stopping terrorism may make travelers feel safer.
“The interesting part for us will be how people reconcile the safety measures that were attempted by the administration and how that balances out with the chaos and confusion that has certainly dominated headlines in the last few days,” said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association. “It’s premature to get an accurate reading” on the impact, he said.
William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, agreed that the visa restrictions are new and many people are waiting to see how they evolve before changing their plans. “America has always been a beacon of welcome and hope and economic opportunity — a place where people can realize their dreams — and that is a hard brand for people to dent,” he said. “We may not be dented now, but we’re probably scratched.”