When I wrote several months ago that President Donald Trump’s tirades against Mexicans, Muslims and other foreigners would hurt the U.S. tourism industry, many angry Trump supporters wrote to complain that I was part of an alleged media conspiracy to discredit the U.S. leader.
Well, the official results are in, and – indeed – Trump is really bad for tourism.
According to the Trump administration’s own Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office, the number of international visitors arriving in the United States during the first six months of this year dropped by almost 4 percent from the same period last year. By comparison, international tourism globally rose by 4 percent during the same period, according to the London-based World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC.)
This is no trivial matter. Tourism is the United States’ second-largest export industry, supporting 15 million U.S. jobs, according to the U.S. Travel Association. For every 4 percent decrease in travel expenditures, 344,000 U.S. jobs are lost, the WTTC says.
International arrivals in the United States during the first six months this year fell by 30 percent from Middle Eastern countries, 16 percent from Mexico, 14 percent from Central and South America, and nearly 2 percent from Europe.
Among the few exceptions to the decline in foreign tourism was South Florida: International arrivals went up by 4 percent in Miami, and by 20 percent in Fort Lauderdale during the first six months this year. State officials tell me that it was because of an increase in flights to South Florida from Germany, Argentina and other countries.
When I asked WTTC president Gloria Guevara how she explains the decline in foreign tourism to the United States, she said that it’s a combination of factors. Among them is “the feeling by some tourists that they are not welcome” in the United States, Trump’s travel ban on people from several Middle Eastern countries, and a relatively strong U.S. dollar.
Interestingly, she told me that Mexicans’ tourism to Canada has soared by 53 percent this year. This is because, among other things, the Canadian government earlier this year lifted visa requirements for Mexican tourists.
While Trump vows to build a wall on the border with Mexico and offended virtually all Mexicans by saying that most of the nearly 6 million Mexican undocumented immigrants in the United States are “criminals” and “rapists,” Canada sent a strong message that it welcomes Mexicans. What a difference!
And Trump’s constant barbs against Muslims – as when he told CNN that “Islam hates us,” or when he re-tweeted anti-Muslim videos from a British far-right group earlier this week, prompting a condemnation from British prime minister Theresa May – are resulting in many tourists from Arab countries heading for Europe. Tourism to Spain and Portugal is reaching all times highs, WTTC figures show.
There is also evidence that the number of international students currently in U.S. colleges – about 1.1 million – will fall by 7 percent in 2018, according to preliminary estimates from the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE.) The IIE report pointed to the “U.S. social and political environment and feeling unwelcome in the United States” as partly to blame.
The U.S. country brand is taking a hit under America’s first populist president in recent times. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 49 percent of those surveyed in 37 nations have a positive view of the United States, down from 64 percent at the end of the Obama administration.
I’m afraid that none of these facts will change the minds of most Trump supporters. Judging from their previous tweets and Facebook messages, they will call this fake news – even if it comes from the Trump administration itself – as they do with almost everything that doesn’t fit their narrative.
But there are some moderate Republicans who voted for Trump, and who may accept the fact that it’s not good for America when foreign tourism goes down, while travel to Europe and Canada booms. If they could just tell Trump to show more respect for other countries, and other races, they would do a great service to this country, and could help save hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. He can be contacted at email@example.com.