Skift Take

Although the new executive order grants a number of exceptions, an unfriendly air persists. Right now, we'll have to wait and see to accurately gauge the damage done to the U.S. meetings industry.

On Monday, March 6, President Trump took a second stab at a travel ban with the signing of a new executive order, due to take effect on March 16.

One of the biggest changes is that Iraq has been scratched off the list — countries now affected include Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — but the text also states that, “decisions about issuance of visas or granting admission to Iraqi nationals should be subjected to additional scrutiny to determine if applicants have connections with ISIS or other terrorist organizations, or otherwise pose a risk to either national security or public safety.”

The new executive order revokes the first one originally issued in January, but the main focus is the same. It suspends entry to the United States for nationals of the above named six countries for 90 days “to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists.” It also bans entry of refugees from anywhere in the world for 120 days. Exceptions include those who already have a green card, U.S. visa, or have been granted refugee or asylum status.

For organizers of meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions — especially of those of an academic or scientific nature — there are other exceptions worth noting. They include: foreign nationals who have previously been admitted “for a continuous period of work, study, or other long-term activity, is outside the United States on the effective date of this order, seeks to reenter the United States to resume that activity, and the denial of reentry during the suspension period would impair that activity,” or who have “previously established significant contacts with the United States but is outside the United States on the effective date of this order for work, study, or other lawful activity” and foreign nationals who need to enter the U.S. “for significant business or professional obligations and the denial of entry during the suspension period would impair those obligations.”

Also exempt: foreign nationals who have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government; and foreign nationals who are traveling to the U.S. in relation to their membership in one of more than 70 organizations designated under the International Organizations Immunities Act.

However, contrary to these updated guidelines, reports of hostility toward travelers who do not fall under these guidelines keep trickling in. The latest? On Monday, Toronto-based journalist Rose Hwang of CTV National News reported that Khizr Khan would not travel to Toronto for a speaking engagement because the U.S. is reviewing his travel privileges. The Pakistani lawyer, who became an American citizen more than 30 years ago, spoke out against Trump’s policies at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Additionally, the text potentially creates new challenges for U.S. travelers as well: Section 10 of the executive order states that the ” … if another country does not treat United States nationals seeking nonimmigrant visas in a truly reciprocal manner, the Secretary of State shall adjust the visa validity period, fee schedule, or other treatment to match the treatment of United States nationals by that foreign country, to the extent practicable.”

Since President Trump signed the first executive order in late January, thousands of academics and scientists have signed petitions boycotting meeting in the U.S., and groups from a variety of sectors have stated their weariness about holding meetings here.

As of February 22, more than 6,500 Canadian academics signed a pledge to “not attend international conferences in the U.S. while the ban persists,” and more than 43,000 academics have signed another petition condemning the executive order. A group of astronomers behind the “Science Undivided” initiative have pledged not to attend conferences in the U.S. “until they can be attended by all, regardless of citizenship, and invite academics from all fields to join them,” said their press release. The pledge currently has more than 600 signatures.

Industry Response

The tech industry is also showing signs of pushback. Attendees at Game Developers Conference, held from February 27 through March 3 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, reported feeling the effects of the ban. The Internet Engineering Task Force stated that it is reconsidering holding future events in the U.S, stating that “the recent action by the United States government to bar entry by individuals from specific nations raises concerns for us — not only because upcoming IETF meetings are currently scheduled to take place in the U.S., but also because the action raises uncertainty about the ability of U.S.-based IETF participants to travel to and return from IETF meetings held outside the United States.”

Harvey Davidson, CHME, CMP Emeritus, and treasurer of the World Federation of Tourist Guides Associations (WFTGA), believes the January ban is why New York City lost a bid to host WFTGA. Delegates of WFTGA’s 2017 convention, held in Tehran from January 28 through February 1, voted to hold their 2019 convention in Tbilsli over New York City and Bangkok.

“The timing of this was unfortunate, because President Trump announced the travel ban before the vote could be taken, and the people in Iran were very much aware of what was happening in the U.S. The concern among the delegates from most countries was whether they would be able to get visas to attend a convention in New York and the travel ban was a negative factor,” said Davidson, who is also vice president of Guides Association of New York City.

“They have forgotten that the Berlin Wall collapsed many years ago. Even if there are walls between nations, they must be removed,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the convention.

Already, some hoteliers are also reporting shifts within the meetings sector. During a February 16 earnings call, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said that the company has, anecdotally, seen international groups shying away from meeting in the U.S.

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Tags: meetings, meetings and events, politics, travel ban, trump

Photo credit: Activists protested against Trump's first travel ban as far away as the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. The U.S. meetings industry is bracing for the impact the ban may have in attracting future international meetings and events to the country. Vincent Yu / Associated Press

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