Skift Take

Hoteliers, for the most part, seem to have taken a vow of silence when it comes to commenting individually on Trump's controversial travel ban. But as more Americans and people around the world voice their concerns over this new policy, we wonder if hotels will begin to change their minds.

Although response from travel executives and companies from a variety of sectors about the Trump administration’s travel ban on certain countries has been swift, major hotel chains have remained relatively quiet.

On Wednesday however, Choice Hotels became the first major U.S. hotel chain to issue a somewhat critical response to the ban as it called on the Trump administration “to welcome international visitors and immigrants” while providing appropriate security for Americans.

“Choice Hotels supports efforts to ensure the safety and security of the United States,” the statement reads. “At the same time, we urge the administration to find a balanced approach that promotes travel. More specifically, we ask the administration to welcome international visitors and immigrants who travel to our country to enjoy our sights and landmarks, conduct business, visit family, and to live and work, while providing appropriate travel security solutions that protect all Americans.

“In the meantime, Choice Hotels will be waiving all cancellation fees for travelers who are from the regions impacted by the recent executive order.”

On Monday, January 30, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) issued a statement from president and CEO Katherine Lugar that was much more muted, and referred to the ban as a “review.” It said:

“The American Hotel & Lodging Association has long recognized the critical importance of finding the right balance between unwavering hospitality and strong national security. While we recognize the importance of reviewing the processes surrounding visa issuance as a means to enhance national security, any action must also be balanced.

“It is our hope that the administration’s review will be completed quickly, so that we can work together to develop policies that both promote hospitality and travel to the United States for those who wish to come – both as employees and as guests – while also ensuring the safety of our citizens here at home. We look forward to working with the administration, Congress, and the broader U.S. travel community to meet that goal.”

Skift reached out to Marriott International, Hilton, Wyndham Hotels Group, AccorHotels, Trump Hotels, Hyatt, and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association for their responses to the ban, but has not received any statements or comments.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed the executive order, called “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” on January 27. The order temporarily bans entry of travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia.

In addition to being interpreted as a Muslim ban or religious test for entry into the U.S., Trump’s travel ban has the potential to hurt the U.S. economy, too. The Council on Foreign Relations has estimated that a travel ban on seven majority-Muslim nations to the U.S. could cost up to $71 billion per year and up to 132,000 jobs.

Booking Sites Quickly Condemned the Ban

To date, top executives from companies that include Expedia, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, American Airlines, Lyft, and Uber have all publicly condemned the executive order.

Expedia has even filed a declaration to support a Washington State suit against Trump’s travel ban and its CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, himself an immigrant from Iran, has said, “The President’s order represents the worst of his proclivity toward rash action versus thoughtfulness. Ours is a nation of immigrants. These are our roots, this is our soul. All erased with the stroke of a pen.”

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has been particularly vocal about his company’s stance on the ban, saying, “This is a policy that I profoundly disagree with, and it is a direct obstacle to our mission at Airbnb.”

The company has also publicly stated that “Airbnb is now providing free housing to refugees and anyone recently barred from entering the U.S.”

However, it should be noted that the housing, in the majority of cases, is being provided directly by Airbnb hosts who are volunteering to open their homes to those affected by the travel ban; Airbnb is not compensating these hosts for hosting guests in these situations except “in certain markets” where free housing is not available.

In those areas, the company has said it “will subsidize the cost of necessary listings and ensure that those in need have a free place to stay,” an Airbnb spokesperson said.

Airbnb updated its site on January 31 to facilitate the collection of donations via Crowdrise for three different organizations — the International Refugee Assistance Project, the National Immigration Law Center, and the International Rescue Committee.

Reasons for a More Muted Response

Given how strongly many Americans feel about the ban, it could be understandable why some hotel companies have decided to remain silent.

While a Skift survey of 1,502 Americans showed that 49.6 percent of respondents do not support the travel ban, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll of 1,201 Americans showed that 49 percent agreed with the ban, while 41 percent disagreed.

However, given what’s happened with the #deleteUBER campaign that arose last weekend, it’s questionable whether silence, or assuming standard operating procedures is the right tactic for these very uncertain and politically charged times.

The seeming exodus of Uber users began when people perceived Uber as trying to opportunistically profit from a New York Taxi Workers Alliance protest of Trump’s travel ban on January 28. Twitter users were also critical of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s decision to serve as  a member of President Trump’s 18-member business advisory council.

Because of the protests, Uber set up a new automated process to make it easier for people to delete their accounts. Prior to #deleteUBER, deleted accounts were manually processed by Uber employees.

No Apparent Backlash Yet

So far, there hasn’t been any backlash directed toward hotel companies for their silence on Trump’s executive orders regarding the travel ban, or his intention to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But especially given the immensity of the direct economic impact that these orders could have on their businesses, it seems somewhat surprising that they aren’t necessarily showing more public concern.

Perhaps some of the chains, too, feel that the statement from the AH&LA reflects their position and speaks for them.

However, what is clear is that the travel ban will most certainly have an impact on the hotel business, as well as the travel industry as a whole.

Prior to the news of the travel ban, Skift spoke with a number of hotel executives who felt that 2017 could be a positive year for corporate transient travel but now there’s news that companies will be reducing their travel budgets this year, primarily because of the ban.

Michael J. Bellisario, a senior research analyst with Baird who covers real estate and the hotel industry, issued an investor’s note on Monday, pointing out how, in the immediate aftermath of the issuance of the executive order, “Hotel stocks are significantly underperforming today (the brands less so than the REITs [real estate investment trusts]) after fallout over the weekend from President Trump’s executive order …”

Bellisario also said there’s the potential for a chilling effect from Trump’s new policies, even on travel from countries not impacted by the travel ban. “You know there could also be a ripple effect from travelers from other countries who may choose to travel elsewhere other than the U.S. How are others looking at the U.S. Are they saying, ‘I don’t want to travel there because of what’s going on there?'”

The Airlines’ Response

Three of the largest U.S. airlines — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines—have all issued formal statements saying they are complying with the executive order, and will issue full refunds to travelers from the seven countries impacted by the ban.

Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines Group, the world’s largest airline, called the ban “divisive” and said it created “turmoil” at airports this past weekend.

In a letter to employees, Parker wrote: “As a global employer, however, this Executive Order does not affect the values that this company is built upon those of diversity, inclusiveness and tolerance. At a time when the world is watching, our industry affords us a unique opportunity to show firsthand what true compassion and kindness look like. Treating each other with respect and dignity does not belong to a political party and transcends any law.”

More Responses From the Industry

Since news first broke of the travel ban, other industry organizations have begun adding their voices and views on the executive order with varying degrees of condemnation and concern. Here are just a few that have been added this week.

David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) took a very public stance against the ban. He said, “The Executive Order issued by U.S. President Trump on 27 January 2017 banning travel to the U.S. from seven countries for 90 days goes directly against the fundamental right of Freedom to Travel. It has created immense confusion among travelers and travel companies worldwide.

“WTTC believes that all people have the right to cross international borders safely and efficiently for business and tourism purposes. The blanket suspension of admittance of travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen to the US flies against this principle. Suspending travel based only on a person’s nationality or their origin is wrong. Many travelers have been unnecessarily disrupted, due to the unclear nature of the Executive Order, coupled with a lack of prior consultation and poor communication to airlines and border officials.

“If this move by the Trump Administration is designed to ‘prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals’, it is important to point out that the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the recent past have been perpetrated by home grown, radicalized nationals of the country involved. None of the shocking domestic incidents in the U.S. since 2001 have been attributed to external terrorists who have specifically flown into the country to commit an atrocity. Preventing ‘aliens’ from entering the US for legitimate business or leisure purposes is misguided and counter-productive for the American economy.

“Travel & Tourism bridges divides between cultures, fosters understanding across religious and geographic boundaries, and generates more peaceful co-existence. Our sector is responsible for the livelihoods of millions worldwide. The U.S. has suffered in the past from similar isolationist policies. We urge the Trump Administration to reconsider this ban.”

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) took a somewhat more tempered approach, but noted the terrible “confusion” that took place at the nation’s airports in the order’s immediate aftermath.

“The International Air Transport Association (IATA) works with its 265 member airlines for safe, secure, efficient and sustainable global air transport links. As a matter of principle we work for the free movement of trade and people across borders.

“IATA also recognizes that states have the right and duty to protect their citizens by enforcing their borders. Where this has implications for air travel, we work with our member airlines to help them comply with these requirements efficiently and effectively. Global systems and procedures exist to support this activity. IATA’s Timatic online solution, for example, is a global database for travel document requirements. It is updated constantly and used by airlines and travel agents around the world.

“These systems can only support the efficient implementation of any government’s directives by the global air transport industry with advance coordination as well as with detailed and consistent operational information. Entry requirements for the United States were changed significantly and immediately by an Executive Order (EO) issued 27 January 2017. The EO was issued without prior coordination or warning, causing confusion among both airlines and travelers. It also placed additional burdens on airlines to comply with unclear requirements, to bear implementation costs and to face potential penalties for non-compliance.

“We ask for early clarity from the U.S. administration on the current situation. Moreover, we urge all governments to provide sufficient advance coordination of changes in entry requirements so that travelers can clearly understand them and airlines can efficiently implement them.”

Echoing the statement issued by the AH&LA, Meetings Mean Business, a travel industry coalition for the meetings industry, said it will “monitor the issue.” Earlier this week, Skift also examined what kind of an impact Trump’s new executive orders could have on the meetings and events industry. This is the statement from Meetings Mean Business:

“The administration’s executive order on immigration and refugees has led to concern and confusion across the meetings industry. Our industry is all about bringing people together, fostering relationships, driving positive outcomes and supporting communities. We are continuing to monitor the issue and will be reaching out to our members to understand how the executive order is affecting them. At the same time, Meetings Mean Business joins with industry partners in reaffirming that it’s critical to strike the right balance between enhanced security and travel facilitation. Together, we urge the administration to conduct its review of the visa issuance protocols quickly, and trust that it will yield an even more secure travel security system that protects international travelers and welcomes them into our country whether traveling for a meeting or leisure.”

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Tags: choice hotels, iata, travel bans, trump, wttc

Photo credit: Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Saturday, January 28, 2017. While certain travel companies have been vocal about voicing their concerns over the ban, some companies, particularly hotels, have been reluctant to make public statements. Craig Ruttle / Associated Press

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