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Is 'Trump Slump' To Blame For Decline In Foreign Tourists To The U.S.?


2017 was a record year for global travel, with more people visiting other countries than ever before. But while the rest of the world is cashing in on this travel boom, it looks like the United States is not. Foreign travel to the U.S. is down significantly, and NPR's David Schaper wanted to figure out why.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Peter Henninger and his wife, Ingrid, live in Hamlstad, Sweden, and love to travel, especially to the United States.

PETER HENNINGER: We used to visit America like once or twice a year. We love the friendly people.

SCHAPER: But notice how he uses the past tense?

HENNINGER: Now we have decided not to go back for a while.

SCHAPER: Henninger says he and his family will not come back to America as long as Donald Trump is president.

HENNINGER: You have a feeling that it's not - how shall I put it? - it's not so friendly to visit the U.S. again because Donald Trump, he doesn't want foreign people in America.

SCHAPER: Instead, Henninger plans to take his family and his money to European locations and maybe to Canada. And it's not just liberal Swedes but people all across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere who are taking fewer trips here. So much so that Spain has now jumped over the U.S. as the world's second-most popular tourism destination behind France.

POLA HENDERSON: I'm not surprised.

SCHAPER: Pola Henderson is a Paris-based business consultant, travel writer and author of the blog Jettingaround.com. And she says the administration's travel bans talk about putting America first. And the president's own derogatory comments and tweets about people from other countries are keeping some tourists away.

HENDERSON: If you are especially from certain countries or of certain ethnicity, no matter where you live, and you see these things, you see the leaders speak a certain way about certain groups of people, I mean, how can you feel welcome?

SCHAPER: Henderson says it's not just those taking vacations but also business travelers. And she says it's about more than just the political climate. Enhanced security screening worries these travelers, too.

HENDERSON: Are you able to bring your devices? What's going to be checked? Are they going to look at your social media? Are there going to be questions when you get to a U.S. airport?

ROGER DOW: You know, everybody wants to jump in and say, oh, it's all Trump's fault...

SCHAPER: Roger Dow heads the U.S. Travel Association, which represents businesses in the travel industry.

DOW: ...But it started in 2015.

SCHAPER: Dow says the downturn in international travel to the U.S. began midway through President Obama's second term, largely because a stronger dollar made travel here more expensive. At the same time, economies in some parts of the world weakened. And European discount airlines began offering cheap fares to other destinations. But Roger Dow acknowledges that the president's rhetoric certainly doesn't help. The end result is a 4 percent drop in the international travel business year last year, the third straight year of decline.

DOW: That's the equivalent of being down about $32 billion in spending. It creates 100,000 jobs.

SCHAPER: So representatives of the hotel and restaurant industry, car rental companies, retailers, airlines and others have formed a new group called the Visit U.S. Coalition to combat the foreign travel slump.

DOW: The challenge we have is we've got to get the message out to the world that they're welcome. We want them. I mean, we'd like the administration to strongly say we're closed to terrorists, but we're wide open to everyone else.

SCHAPER: The travel news isn't all grim. Domestic travel is at record-high levels, so hotels, resorts and theme parks are hardly empty. But Dow and others want the administration to do more to reassure foreigners that the U.S. is not just open for business but for a visit. David Schaper, NPR News.