Donald Trump

Tourists from just one nation say politics makes them want to visit US more since Trump took office: China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 March, 2017, 12:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 March, 2017, 8:58pm

Many international travellers are citing the political climate in the US as a reason not to visit this year - but Chinese tourists are bucking the trend and say it makes them more likely to visit since Donald Trump took office, according to research by the tourism marketing agency Brand USA.

The overall findings add to existing concerns about the tourism industry. Other new data show that a slowdown in international arrivals to the US began last spring and continued through August, likely due to the strong US dollar and sluggish economies elsewhere.

A survey for Brand USA asked travellers from 11 countries how the political climate in the wake of President Trump taking office influenced the likelihood of them visiting the US in the next 12 months.

Those saying the political climate made them less likely to visit increased from December to February among travellers from every country surveyed except China.

Travellers from Mexico registered the most concern over political sentiment as a factor against visiting.

Travellers from Canada, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and France registered moderate sensitivity over political sentiment.

Travellers from India, Japan, Brazil and South Korea were the least sensitive to the US political climate as a factor against visiting, but their likelihood of visiting also decreased over the three-month period, just less dramatically than the others.

Yet Chinese travellers were the only nationality in the survey who said that the US political climate since Trump took office made them more likely to visit.

Brand USA surveys typically provide a multiple-choice list of factors influencing travel plans. Last summer, respondents began writing in issues related to politics as a factor. “So we created a discreet option for that and began to measure that,” Brand USA economist Carroll Rheem said in an interview.

When international travellers were asked in December and again in February “what if any impact the political climate has on their likelihood to visit the US ... over the course of time we saw an increase in that as a reason for people being discouraged from visiting the US,” she said.

International arrivals to the US last year experienced the first sustained decline since the US economy began to recover from the recession, according to newly released and revised arrivals data from the US Department of Commerce National Travel and Tourism Office.

Between April and August of 2016, international arrivals to the US dropped nearly 4 per cent compared with the same five months of 2015, declining from 17.8 million to 17.1 million, the data show. Prior to the second quarter of 2016, international arrivals to the US had climbed every quarter year-over-year since late 2009.

It takes months for arrivals data to accurately be compiled from all US international airports and border crossings, so whether the downward trend continued into fall 2016 and winter 2017 won’t be clear for some time.

Despite concerns raised by arrivals and survey data, Rheem said preliminary data on airline bookings to the US for 2017 shows continued growth. That booking data “is consistent with what we’re hearing from the trade,” Rheem said. “They’ve said things are stable if not growing. So some of the headlines out there about dramatic downward shifts or challenges in bookings are not really consistent with what we’ve been seeing in that data.”

Rheem cautioned that it’s “hard to tell” what the impact of the political concerns showing up in surveys might be. Arrivals data shows what’s already happened, but surveys merely hint at future behavior.

“There’s a good group of these people who have concerns who have a wait-and-see approach” about vacation planning, she said. “And there are others who are somewhat impacted or slightly negative but at the same time will end up booking. It’s not a complete deterrent, but it’s a bit of a concern.” Sentiment versus booking behaviour “don’t always break in the same direction,” she said.

Brand USA adjusts its marketing strategies in response to survey trends in an effort to make travelers feel secure about concerns that might prevent a visit. One strategy involves inviting “influencers” — individuals with large online or social-media followings — to visit the US and then tell stories about their (hopefully positive) experiences.