NEW YORK — Last winter, the U.S. tourism industry fretted that Trump administration policies might lead to a “Trump slump” in travel.
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But those fears may have been premature. International arrivals and travel-related spending are up in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016. There might even be a “Trump bump,” says Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit representing the travel industry.
A few months ago, Dow and others warned that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and ban on travel from a handful of mostly Muslim countries could send an anti-tourism message.
But “impending doom hasn’t manifested itself,” Dow said in an interview. “Right now we cannot identify a loss. It’s contrary to everything we’ve heard, but travel is in slightly better shape than it was a year ago. Everyone wants me to tell the story of the sky is falling, but for the travel industry, the sky is not falling.”
Latest numbers from the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Trends Index showed 6.6 percent growth in international travel to the U.S. in April and 5 percent growth in May compared with the same months last year. The Travel Trends Index uses hotel, airline and U.S. government data.
Individual sectors have good news, too.
Hotel occupancy for the first five months of 2017 was “higher than it has ever been before,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice president with STR, which tracks hotel industry data. American Express Meetings & Events has “not seen a slowdown in either domestic U.S. meetings or international meetings from the U.S. in the past six months,” according to senior vice president Issa Jouaneh.
Even New York’s National September 11 Memorial and Museum has more international visitors: 554,381 at the museum Jan. 1-July 11, up from 517,539 the same period last year.
Some bump in Las Vegas
Las Vegas has seen a moderate bump in international travel on nonstop flights to and from McCarran International Airport in the first five months of 2017, thanks mostly to increased traffic on Air Canada, Korean Air, discount carriers Edelweiss and Thomas Cook and new-to-Las Vegas operator Hainan Airlines.
Overall, international traffic for the first five months of 2017 is up 1.2 percent over a year earlier at 1.4 million passengers.
There currently are no nonstop flights to and from any of the nations identified on Trump’s travel ban list.
Earlier this month, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority received a report from airline development officials outlining how they intend to increase international travel by recruiting new airlines and encouraging current carriers to increase flights or the size of aircraft and McCarran has prepared for potential increases by making more gates available for international arrivals.
“We have a robust program with McCarran International Airport to attract new air service both domestically and internationally and we’ve been successful in bringing more seats to Las Vegas this year, including from international destinations,” Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesman Jeremy Handel said in an emailed statement.
“We are in discussions with carriers to further increase international seats this year,” he said. “Our strong marketing programs and targeted efforts, including partnerships with our resorts and Brand USA continue to keep Las Vegas top-of-mind for travelers from around the globe.”
Review-Journal writer Richard N. Velotta contributed to this report.
U.S. visitation data
Comprehensive international arrivals data from the U.S. Commerce Department takes seven months to compile, so it will be next year before definitive 2017 statistics are available.
But the Commerce Department has seen a 5 percent increase January-March over the same period last year in collections from ESTA fees, which are electronic travel authorization fees paid by foreigners who don’t need visas to enter the U.S.
That suggests increased visitation from visa-waiver countries like the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and Australia.