If 2018’s record Thanksgiving travel numbers are any indication, holiday travel remains an American tradition. Yet those numbers aren’t indicative of the U.S. tourism industry overall, which has declined sharply in the wake of several Trump Administration policy changes.
Since the 45th POTUS took office in January 2017, the U.S. has seen significantly fewer visitors — both those seeking asylum and those traveling for leisure or business. The cap for refugees allowed into the U.S. was set at 45,000 for 2018 and will be further lowered to 30,000 in 2019.
The tourism industry doesn’t have a numbers cap but has taken a hit in recent years nonetheless, insiders claim. And the dip in tourism numbers can be directly attributed to the Trump Administration. The Daily Beast reports that the once-promising U.S. tourism industry has dropped significantly since Trump took office.
Trade disputes may be one of the primary reasons behind the lowered numbers, if recent situations in Cuba and China are any indication.
Cuba: Decades of Travel Restrictions
Politics impacting travel patterns is nothing new, especially for one of our closest neighbors. Travel to Cuba has been regulated since the first trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba was put in place in 1960. While not entirely lifted, some details of the embargo were changed in 2014, during President Obama’s second term.
In lifting certain provisions imposed on Cuba, the Obama Administration was looking to improve political relations and offset the financial loss of the long-standing dispute. Trade disputes are costly: The annual economic impact of the Cuban trade embargo is $1.2 billion in lost sales and exports, according to Norwich University.
But the Trump Administration did its best to reverse the progress made after the embargo was lifted, essentially reversing Obama’s detente in late 2017. Travel was one of the major industries affected.
Restrictions were imposed on those traveling to Cuba from the U.S. on two different types of visas: educational visas and “people-to-people” visas. To qualify for a people-to-people visa, the purpose of a traveler’s visit to Cuba must be of a religious, humanitarian, journalistic, diplomatic or business nature. As has been the case since 1960, travel to Cuba solely for tourism is prohibited.
Cuba is just one of several countries under travel-based scrutiny in the current administration.
Even before Trump took office, his views on immigration were expected to negatively impact the tourism industry. The U.S. is considered an unfriendly destination for Muslims, and the administration’s policies are alienating other groups of potential tourists, such as Chinese citizens.
Tourism Troubles in China
Two major cities in China (Hong Kong and Shanghai) are listed among the world’s most walkable, but U.S. visitors may not have the chance to experience either Chinese pedestrian paradise, thanks to the trade war imposed by the Trump Administration.
Tariffs against China went into effect in March 2018, in response to what the Trump Administration saw as theft of intellectual property of the U.S. and its allies. China disputes the claims and retaliated with export tariffs of its own.
The regulations have also impacted the tourism industry, an unintended consequence of the U.S.-China trade war.
News sources claim that Chinese citizens are reluctant to visit the U.S. in these turbulent political times. In fact, the fourth quarter of 2018 has seen a 9.6 percent drop in flight bookings from China to the U.S., compared to the same timeframe last year.
Some Trump insiders have argued that the significantly lower flight numbers are due to overarching concerns about airport safety. Airport travel itself is considered inherently risky, from both a health and safety standpoint.
Along with the possibility of a terrorist act, airports are hotbeds for germs and potential disease. Yet skepticism over airport safety seems an unlikely culprit where reduced tourism numbers are concerned. After all, the significant dip in U.S. travel numbers comes as worldwide airline travel bookings from China have increased by 5.5 percent.
So the Chinese people still want to travel for the sake of traveling — they’re just choosing to fly over the U.S. The full repercussions of the U.S. tourism slump remains to be seen, but reports indicate that the loss of China’s tourist dollars could cost the U.S. economy about $500 million.
It’s possible to support political change via travel, whether you’re traveling freely on a tourist visa or restricted to “people-to-people” visa status. For example, Chinese-based travelers are using their tourism dollars to loudly declare their feelings about current U.S. policy. Perhaps that monetary loss is a stepping stone towards ending the trade war between China and the U.S.