Travel Industry Reacts to Trump Presidency With Mix of Caution and Optimism

It's hard to know how many of any candidate's campaign promises will eventually become reality, and President-elect Donald Trump, as the wild card that he has proven to be, is no different.

The billionaire turned politician offered fiery rhetoric and promises on a variety of fronts while campaigning - taking aim at everything from immigration to national security and global trade.

With a Republican House and Senate backing him, Trump is likely to find easy passage for whichever priorities he sets his sights on.

All of which leaves travel industry leaders in this country with mixed emotions. Many are expressing fears about Trump's proposed policies, while others are offering optimism in response to the election of a man who made a fair share of his fortune by building and operating hotels.

Skift, a well-known voice in the travel industry, regularly offering data and analysis of the latest travel trends, released a report just two days after Trump's surprising election highlighting some of the possible impacts his administration may have on the world's largest industry.

Based on a round-up of quotes and reaction about the election results from travel leaders, the report suggests the overwhelming sentiment permeating the industry right now is caution, not optimism.

The industry's mixed response to the incoming administration touches on a variety of potential issues, concerns and benefits, and in so doing, reveals the contradictory nature of sentiments at the moment, including such thoughts as:

  • New U.S. security policies potentially hindering immigration and inbound tourism from Mexico
  • A ban on Muslim visitors costing $71 billion and up to 132,000 jobs annually, according to Euromonitor.
  • The potential for the rise of home-grown American brands
  • A more favorable business climate under the Republican president
  • The potential lifting of the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba
  • The belief that the travel industry will remain a priority globally and also in Washington's corridors of political power


"One of the most controversial presidential campaigns in U.S. history is over (we think)," states Skift's Sarah Enelow in the report. "You would think having a hotel operator in office would thrill the industry. So far that's not the case at all."

Among the travel companies and industry organizations quoted by the Skift report - which is more a fascinating snapshot in time then it is a formal scientific survey - are Expedia; The Priceline Group; Airlines for America; The U.S. Travel Association; Partnership for Open & Fair Skies; Marriott International and also TripAdvisor.

Expedia for instance tells Skift that it's "optimistic that with the election behind us, we will continue to work with leaders on both sides of the aisle to ensure travel remains a priority in Washington and in state capitols across the nation."

Momondo Group CEO Hugo Burge, meanwhile, expresses concern about Trump's isolationist rhetoric.

"Whether Trump's campaign stance of aggressive isolationism is pursued once he takes office remains to be seen, but it's more important than ever - and the responsibility of everyone - to keep fighting for a more open world," Burge told Skift.

Speaking through the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies coalition, big US airlines such as Delta, American and United were upbeat about Trump's election, suggesting his presidency may lead to the renegotiation of Open Skies agreements and limitations on access to the U.S. market for Gulf carriers.

Priceline Group's Interim CEO Jeffery Boyd offered a somewhat mixed analysis.

"Firstly, with a Republican President and a Republican Congress, we could potentially see a more favorable environment for business generally in the U.S., and perhaps an opportunity for corporate tax reform," Boyd states. "But it remains to be seen whether some of Trump's campaign rhetoric will reflect policy priorities in congress or whether international traveler behavior changes because of it."

Skift's report is just one example of the travel industry's reaction to the incoming U.S. president.

Countless others have also expressed their thoughts and concerns about the president-elect and his potential policies.

Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours,  a New York based tour company, fears Trump may reverse all of the progress President Obama has made in renewing relations and economic ties with Cuba.

"I believe there's no better way to help the Cuban people than to send Americans to engage in meaningful, people-to-people exchanges," Geronemus says. "Ever since Obama's historic announcement in December 2014 and the massive influx of American travelers, we've seen tremendous progress in Cuba. I'm hopeful that President-elect Trump will do the right thing, but I'll also add that if you really want to go to Cuba, go soon."

Geronemus's concern is an important one. Since 2014, the progress between Cuba and the United States has been significant, particularly when it comes to the travel industry. Starwood Hotels & Resorts has taken over management of some Cuban hotels, commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba have recently begun and there's been an unprecedented increase in U.S. travelers to the country, the likes of which have not been seen since the 1950s.

All of this renewed activity has also had a positive effect on businesses in the U.S., including travel agents, tour operators and other service providers, says Tom Popper, president of New York based insightCuba.

Popper, however, remains optimistic that Trump will not seek to reverse such progress.

"While much is difficult to predict with any certainty, I don't believe (Trump) will strive to undo the gains with regard to travel and trade as a result of Obama's effort to normalize ties with Cuba," Popper says, noting that there's been growing bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to further loosen travel and trade restrictions with Cuba.

"These are real benefits to U.S. businesses and any such reversal would reverberate with negative financial consequences for those that opted to engage," Popper adds.

Meanwhile, in Seattle at the startup Utrip, one executive expressed serious fears about the controversial, aggressive and isolationist language Trump used throughout his campaign, suggesting that some of the most significant damage to be done to the U.S. travel market may well be tied to that offensive commentary.

"Countries around the world already have travel warnings about coming to U.S. based on the violence, mass shootings, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT shootings here," says Ahmed Bhuiyan, Utrip's director of business development. "Everyone is going to be watching what happens over the next six months to see if Trump is going to follow up on his aggressive rhetoric."

Yet for all of the caution and worry being expressed, some within the travel industry say there could very well be some positive impacts under Trump.

Laura Mandala, CEO of Mandala Research and founder of Women in Travel and Tourism International, points out that with good economic times comes increased consumer confidence, which correlates with increased travel.

Trump has promised people that their wallets will be fatter under his tenure, therefore they are more likely to feel like they can afford a trip, Mandala says.

"Increased jobs and wages for Americans will increase discretionary income, critical to taking a trip, which is often perceived as an indulgent discretionary expenditure," she says.

In addition, the president-elect's promise to invest in infrastructure not only bodes well for jobs here, but will also improve this country's assets and thus help the U.S. to remain competitive as a destination, Mandala adds.

"As Trump notes, some U.S. airports are an embarrassment and far below expectations of what any of us, not to mention international visitors, expect," Mandala says.

The bottom line however, according to many, is it's just too soon to tell what will happen come January and beyond.

What is not uncertain however, even at this early stage, is that world opinion of the U.S. certainly impacts travelers' willingness to visit this country. The Pew Research Center has tracked world opinion of the U.S. and lower levels of confidence in the U.S. align with lower levels of visitation.  

In addition, Mandala has done her own research among travelers from emerging markets and found that negative experiences here are having an impact on travelers' intentions to return to this country and furthermore, nearly 63% of those she surveyed said they are less likely to visit the US because of the difficulties they encountered with the visa process alone.
 
"The U.S. has been struggling to gain its fair share of the international market and has faced several challenges, more aggressive marketing by other countries, variances in currencies, and historic negative impressions of security and visa issues for entering the U.S.," says Mandala.

Various organizations have been working to counteract such challenges over the years. But that progress can easily be derailed by another round of negative public opinion.  

"The Trump administration should, and probably already does realize that travel is public diplomacy that supports our economic status and security," Mandala adds. "It is through the regular engagement of peoples across borders that cultural understanding, and then affinity and friendship can develop."

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