Trump vs. Tourism: How Major U.S. Cities Are Fighting to Welcome Foreigners

Travel Features Donald Trump
Trump vs. Tourism: How Major U.S. Cities Are Fighting to Welcome Foreigners

It’s no surprise that President Donald Trump’s proposed travel bans have been toxic for the United States’ tourism industry. On January 27 Trump signed executive orders to bar people from seven countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Nationwide protests broke out and judges were forced to pick a side, choosing to temporarily block the ban before it was ultimately defeated. Soon thereafter on March 6, yet another ban was unveiled and subsequently defeated on March 15. Though the bans didn’t last long, the “anti-welcome” sentiment did its damage and continues to dissuade international travelers from visiting the U.S.

According to recent data from Hopper, U.S. bound flight searches are down 17 percent overall since Trump’s inauguration, while weekly search demand for flights to the U.S. is down 33 percent from countries included in the travel ban. Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, a travel research firm, said the annual number of foreign visitors to the United States could fall by 6.3 million between 2016 and 2018 “because of reactions to Mr. Trump’s words and actions, such as pledges to pull out of international trade agreements,” according to The New York Times.

As a result, major cities around the country are revamping their branding to emphasize the message that international visitors are indeed welcome, despite the administration’s alienating, anti-inclusion rhetoric.

Tourism Economics reevaluated Los Angeles’ tourism forecast to understand the effect of all Executive Orders including the first travel ban, and projected that L.A. County could suffer a potential three-year loss of 800,000 international visitors, totaling $736 million in direct tourism spending. In response, Discover Los Angeles introduced a new campaign, #EveryoneIsWelcome, to underscore diversity and inclusivity, launching with a video featuring L.A.’s creative community coming together in a message of hope, wonder and a willingness to accept everyone with open arms.

“People from 140 countries who speak over 224 different languages reside in Los Angeles, and it is one of only two U.S. cities without a majority population. Diversity comes through in all facets of our culture from art and cuisine to music and dance,” Don Skeoch, CMO at Discover Los Angeles told Paste. “It is our hope that our #EveryoneIsWelcome initiative will help to mitigate some or all of the potential loss that our research partners are projecting. There is a tremendous opportunity for our industry to band together to ensure visitors understand that they are welcome; a collective rallying cry would go a long way.”

Meanwhile on the East Coast, New York City estimates a possible drop of 300k international visitors, which make up at least $600 million in direct spending. Though international visitors only comprise 20 percent of visitor volume, they make upward of 50 percent of outside spending. Fred Dixon, the chief executive of NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization for the five boroughs of New York City, said in February that “Mr. Trump’s statements and actions had changed perceptions about the hospitality of the United States just as prospective tourists are making vacation plans for 2017,” according to The New York Times.

“We launched a new campaign called, ‘New York City Welcomes the World’ to combat what we have estimated to be a possible drop of 300k international visitors. Our goal is to counter the negative rhetoric coming from the administration. Our $3 million campaign has targeted the UK, Spain and Mexico,” Chris Heywood, senior vice president, global communications at NYC & Company told Paste. “We have been very vocal in the last three months; we’ve been in Berlin and Mexico, among other places, to speak directly with our markets. We are a city that welcomes people from around the globe and we want it to be clear that we’re open for business.”

It’s crucial for U.S. destinations to set themselves apart from the stigma of the administration’s views on international tourism. “The proposed travel ban, all the speculation on the wall and more, creates a perception challenge for us,” Heywood continued. “People are nervous and stressed about their experiences at the border. Travelers have so many choices and when you layer a message of unwelcoming spirit, it doesn’t help matters. Negative perceptions affect travel decisions that can either be here (in the U.S.) or elsewhere.”

Unlike most of the heavily affected destinations, San Francisco doesn’t get many visitors from the countries targeted by the bans. That said, “the markets that we do get a lot of visitors from are sensitive to this kind of messaging. Again, even though the bans have been defeated, that image is still out there,” Laurie Armstrong, director, media relations U.S. & Canada, at San Francisco Travel, told Paste. “It’s bothersome to us because it threatens international travel. And frankly for San Francisco specifically, it conflicts with who we are. This is not who we are as a community and destination.”

San Francisco is forecasting to welcome 2.9 million international visitors this year. According to Armstrong, international visitors account for 53 percent of all visitor spending from. San Francisco’s recently launched campaign, “Always Welcome” runs now through July and highlights the fact that “San Francisco doesn’t just welcome your differences” but rather encourages, celebrates, and even “throws parties for them.” Echoing its ongoing theme, “Never the same. Always San Francisco,” the campaign’s key message is “Never the same. Always welcome.”

“It’s incumbent that U.S. cities do this; it’s great that other locations and destinations are doing more to change this perception for the best. We need to act proactively,” said Heywood. “Our goal is to protect our share of the international travel market as much as possible.”

“It is inspiring to see that several other tourism boards in the U.S.—including New York and San Francisco—are championing that same message, and we hope it will permeate across the country and globe,” echoed Skeoch.

No one is arguing against keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks; that said, building an enormous wall or blindly banning certain types of people based on stereotypes isn’t the solution. “We need to strike a balance between having secure borders and having a message of welcoming, open doors,” said Heywood. Armstrong echoed, “safety and welcoming need to coexist. It can’t be one thing or the other; we need to make it work.”

Chelsea is a freelance journalist based in New York City whose passion revolves around traveling the world, immersing herself in new cultures, and of course eating and drinking all things delicious.

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