How will the Trump Administration Impact U.S. Inbound Travel?


In what can only be compared to the surprise of the British vote to leave the European Union (Brexit), the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election has political pundits, policy gurus, and economists worldwide rushing to explain what happened and its probable impact to audiences everywhere.

Post-election analysis is currently focused on how Trump upended expectations across the nation. Nevertheless, the discussion will quickly move to the issues which come to the forefront as the new administration takes shape and whether President-elect Trump continues to embrace all of his positions as outlined during the campaign.

For the inbound travel market, it would be valuable to look at this result in three different ways:

  1. Policies impacting international inbound travel
  2. Investment in tourism infrastructure
  3. The perception of the United States as a welcoming destination

Taking the three points in order, here are early considerations.

Policies impacting international inbound travel. Comments made by President-elect Trump during the campaign raise the possibility of more restrictive travel policies.  It should be assumed visa policies, especially who is eligible for various kinds of visas, how quickly visas are processed, and whether the expansion of visa waiver–probably doubtful–or even a reversal in eligible countries will be on the table.

With campaign statements focused on Islamic extremism a big part of the Trump rhetoric, countries with large Muslim populations are likely to have much higher levels of scrutiny, including current visa waiver countries like France, where there are growing numbers. Other market segments, such as Mexicans and countries known for visa overstays, might also be targeted.  Difficulties getting visas could easily curtail basic levels of practical interest in trying to visit the United States.

Marketing of the United States will probably not be initially impacted, as the Travel Promotion Act has already been reauthorized for a new five year term, which will carry it through the term of President-elect Trump.

Investment in Tourism Infrastructure. On the other hand, infrastructure attention might be a highlight of the new Trump Administration.  President-elect Donald Trump has been a strong advocate of infrastructure spending.

Two matters will be critical here. The first is the question of what areas will receive such investment. Travel industry advocates should be prepared to advocate for funding of highway, bridge, transit, and tunnel backlogs; airport improvements with an emphasis on intermodal connectivity to city centers; and elimination of the $12 billion national parks infrastructure backlog.

One infrastructure project, which might have a symbolic impact–as well as a practical one–on inbound tourism, will be the wall on the Mexican border.  If built, the question will be how it impacts tourism by erecting a barrier with one of our top three sources of international visitors, as well as changing immigration policy.

The perception of the U.S as a Welcoming Destination. In addition to the visa issues, the simple perception of whether visitors will be welcome and safe here is already a hot topic.  For Muslims, Mexicans, and people of color, there are going to be a lot of questions along these lines.  Potential visitors are going to look at both the past and future comments of President-elect Trump and the widely circulated remarks of his supporters to measure whether they want to visit the United States.  If anything from this election can impact inbound tourism, this is perhaps the most important element.

The immediate task of the travel industry and its marketing partner Brand USA will be to research and understand these perceptions, then develop ways to address them by working with the incoming Trump Administration on giving reassurance to the potential visitors who generate this critical part of our national economy and balance of trade.