A Trump presidency probably spells bad news for America’s travel industry
OVER the weekend a United Airlines pilot was forced to leave his cockpit in order to mediate between fighting passengers, after a disagreement over the virtues of Donald Trump turned nasty. In today’s world that amounts to a non-story: people lose their senses on aircraft all the time. But it feels prescient to read that a Trump presidency is already disrupting travel. Many in the industry worry what effect his policies might have beyond an increase in the number of tetchy flyers.
So what will a Trump administration mean for American tourism? As with many things about the next four years, uncertainty abounds. Much will depend on the extent to which Mr Trump keeps his pre-presidential word.
Some of his pledges would clearly create problems for the industry. If he were, for example, to implement a ban on Muslims entering the United States—which he vowed to do on his first day in office, and which he could enact without much interference from Congress—then the consequences for the travel industry would be dire.
Mr Trump’s plan, as far as it has been explained, would apply to immigrants from "terror-prone regions", not to tourists. But it would hugely dampen enthusiasm among the world’s 1.6bn Muslims to visit the country. Travellers from the Middle East, many of whom are Muslim, tend to be among the biggest spenders, lavishing more than 50% extra per trip compared with Europeans. A calculation by Travel + Leisure suggested their contribution in 2013 was $6.8bn. But the actual hit to tourism would be far higher: the majority of the world’s Muslims live outside the Middle East. And that is before we consider the reputational damage suffered to America in non-Muslim nations. A widely reported survey conducted before the election found that over 1m Britons would boycott America in the event of a Trump presidency. The poll is not statistically sound, but it does hint at a general loss of prestige in the eyes of the world, which could affect visitor numbers at the margin.
Then again, there is infrastructure. One of the few things that the Mr Trump and Hillary Clinton agreed on during the recent campaign was that transport infrastructure in America is a mess and serious money will be needed to improve it. Mr Trump went as far to say that the country’s airports “are like from a third-world country”. As a fellow Gulliver pointed out at the time, that is not entirely fair: they are even worse than that. Early indications seem to be that the president-elect will indeed sanction spending on upgrades. If he is as good as his word, that would be heartily welcomed by the tourism industry.
Airlines would like him to go further. Representatives of the big carriers have already called on him to privatise the country’s air-traffic-control service. There would be some merit to that; the Federal Aviation Administration has been slow to adopt new technology that might make the system work more smoothly. Far worse would be if Mr Trump listened to their bleating about foreign competitors in the aviation market. Rather than fighting back with better service, many American carriers would prefer the administration simply nobble superior international rivals through regulation. (They accuse competitors from the Middle East, such as Emirates and Etihad, of receiving state subsidies and some in Europe, such as Norwegian, of sneaky labour practices.) It is not known which way Mr Trump would lean on this, but if he succumbed to the protectionist urges he espoused on the campaign trail, tourists and American travellers alike would be the losers.
And yet what will matter most to America’s travel industry will be something far broader: the state of the economy. That is the ultimate test of whether a Trump presidency represents a threat or an opportunity to the sector. Growth in international travel—particularly business travel—is closely linked to growth in the economy. And it is especially tied to foreign investment. This newspaper doesn’t hold out much hope that a drawbridge-up Mr Trump will be a boon for the American economy, especially in the longer term. (It may receive a short-term “sugar rush” from infrastructure spending, a stronger dollar and the like.) The travel industry would welcome a successful Trump era. But, as with so many other stakeholders in America, few are willing to predict with confidence what President Trump will do.
This is from Nov 14th 2016, 16:19 by by B.R.