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Editor’s Note: Travel community and booking site Trip.com has frequently been out-front in opposing discrimination, such as when the site updated its destination pages in 2015 to warn travelers about a law in Indiana that permitted businesses to refuse to serve various individuals if doing so violated business owners or association officials’ religious beliefs. In the same spirit, Trip.com co-founder and CEO Travis Katz is speaking out in the following opinion piece about why he feels some of President Trump’s policies are detrimental to the travel industry and U.S. jobs.
Fifteen states joined forces this week in a brief filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, supporting President Trump’s executive order on immigration and claiming the administration is within its authority to issue the order and that it’s a vital move to secure America’s borders.
It’s a bad idea. The Trump administration’s executive orders on immigration, and the rhetoric surrounding them, are killing American jobs in one of the economy’s most important industries — tourism — and providing Americans nothing in return.
Setting moral questions and political affiliations aside in favor of pragmatism, the business impact is severe. This is about American jobs from waitresses to concierges, from cruise ship captains to airline pilots, from travel businesses like ours to tour operators, to taxi drivers to theme parks. This is about revenue for multi-million dollar corporations all the way down to the souvenir vendors and the mom-and-pop diners that refuel kids on spring break.
This is about the impact to the $2 trillion travel industry that employs over 15 million Americans alone — to say nothing of millions more employed across the globe. 1 out of 9 jobs in the U.S. are in the travel industry. In 49 states and D.C., travel is in the top 10 industries. Tourism drives tremendous economic activity domestically and internationally, and generates useful goodwill around the world while we do it. Our efforts usher in 77.5 million tourists to the U.S. each year, where they drive $133 billion in spending as they enjoy all our nation has to offer.
Big and small, no company will remain fully immune from the effects of executive orders and the related rhetoric that make America seem like a less-welcoming and safe destination. In fact, these orders, together with the rhetoric around countries like China and Mexico, are already hurting our industry and the Americans who hold the jobs we’ve created. That’s not alarmist rhetoric. It’s a measurable fact.
The Global Business Travel Association reports that visits to the U.S. have dropped by 2.2 percent — a figure that feels small but translates to a significant $185 million in lost revenue. And the perception of America is already shifting: For instance, a recent study shows that Chinese consumers’ desire to travel to the U.S. has dropped almost 18 percent. That’s a big deal given that Chinese students and tourists contribute $21 billion annually to our economy, and the number of Chinese tourists alone had previously increased 73 percent in a three-year period.
They’re certainly not the only ones. The so-called Trump Effect is measurable and real. New York City, which embraces a full third of all international tourists visiting the U.S. each year, has now revised its estimate of visitors this year down by 300,000 people. Philadelphia typically hosts an international meeting that draws 3,000 visitors, but this year, attendees will get together in Canada or Mexico instead.
As others have noted, even a one percent decline in international business travelers means the elimination of 70,000 jobs, give or take, and $3 billion in lost wages. Forward Keys observed a 6.5 percent drop in international bookings to the U.S. as compared with the prior year. At Trip.com, we’re seeing data showing international searches for hotels fall seven to 10 percent year-over-year, not just from majority-Muslim countries, but from countries as diverse as the UK, Germany, Australia and Brazil, which are traditionally some of America’s largest tourism spenders.
And then there are the stories.
High-profile visitors to the U.S., including noted Australian children’s author Mem Fox and French Holocaust scholar Henry Rousso, report feeling shaken after unnecessary detainments at the airport and hostile questioning. Ms. Fox was so disturbed by her treatment that she plans on never returning to the United States — and she’s a Caucasian woman whose skin color almost assuredly resulted in comparatively better treatment.
Even Muhammed Ali’s son, a U.S. citizen, wasn’t exempt, most recently being challenged when he was flying within the United States. And, of course, these are people with relative clout. Many visitors, green card holders, refugees and asylum-seekers do not have the good fortune of a recognizable name or noteworthy occupation, and were inconvenienced, threatened, humiliated and otherwise made to feel extraordinarily unwelcome in our country.
For the travel industry, each story travels back home, where people tell their friends, their friends tell others, and together, these stories dissuade travelers from planning their trips to the U.S.
This is unacceptable.
Our businesses are predicated on the idea of openness, curiosity, discovery, and enjoyment of other places and people. It’s a winning formula that’s produced high economic returns and steady employment for millions of U.S. citizens for decades.
In contrast, the administration’s positions are stoking fear, promoting isolationism, ceding our high ground as a moral leader, and are taking jobs away from hard-working Americans.
And for what purpose? Political theater designed to make some minority of citizens feel safer, even as experts note that no Americans have been killed by immigrants from any of the countries named in the immigration order in the last decade.
This economy can’t support another crippled industry. This president can’t afford to implement policies that put Americans out of work — and Americans can’t afford to be out of work.
So, to our politicians, we must ask: What is your true priority, American jobs or politics?