Despite concerns that the Trump Administration’s “America First” rhetoric may create perception challenges for the U.S. as a welcoming destination for international attendees, it appears that travelers are still putting the U.S. at the top of their lists of places to visit. The U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Trends Index showed that more international visitors came to the U.S. than expected in April. “Are we surprised by this data?” Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement on the findings. “The honest answer is yes. There have been many claims that the administration’s actions on travel have tarnished America’s brand abroad, but we’re seeing hard economic evidence of the U.S. travel sector’s remarkable resilience.”
The association pointed to the typical booking cycle for international visitors. These travelers typically come to the U.S. around 57 days after they begin their search. Based on this timing, the association expected to see the impact of the fallout from the initial executive order signed in January. However, compared with April 2016, international travel to the U.S. increased by approximately four percent.
Trouble On the Horizon
The early numbers are good news, but in the days ahead, global arrivals may not be flooding U.S. airports. A new report from travel analytics firm ForwardKeys shows that summer bookings for the U.S. are down by 3.5 percent, and research from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts that the U.S. will lose approximately $1.3 billion in travel spending throughout the rest of the year. Mike McCormick, executive director of GBTA, believes that those numbers may look even worse down the road due to declines in conferences and events. “Decisions are being made right now on where to host meetings and conferences in three or four years,” McCormick told Convene in an interview that will appear in the magazine’s July issue. “I’m sure it is challenging to think about the U.S. the way you did a year ago.”
Overcoming those perception challenges will not be easy if the White House budget proposal for 2018 is approved. The plan would slash funding for Brand USA, the organization responsible for promoting the country around the world. “Brand USA has played an instrumental role in helping many of our destination partners across the country welcome more guests to their cities and states, and plenty of those guests are coming to share knowledge and create new connections at conferences organized by members of the PCMA community,” Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of PCMA, said of the proposal. “We need to make sure that Brand USA can continue to position the country as a place that facilitates cross-cultural conversations that lead to new ideas and new business opportunities.”
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