Udall, Heinrich Urge Administration to Address Tourism Slump Created by ‘Trump Effect’

Evidence growing that Trump’s hostile rhetoric, harmful travel policies are hurting tourism industry in NM and US. Visitors to New Mexico spend more than $6 billion annually, sustaining more than 90,000 jobs in the state

WASHINGTON D.C.— Today, ahead of Memorial Day weekend, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich called on the Trump administration to take concrete steps to address the reported decline in tourism to the United States as a result of President Trump’s hostile rhetoric and harmful travel policies, which have created the perception that the United States is not a welcoming place for foreign visitors. 

In a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Udall and Heinrich said that this “Trump effect” threatens to hurt the economy of the United States and of New Mexico, where tourists spend more than $6 billion annually and help sustain more than 90,000 jobs. Udall and Heinrich also noted that the “Trump effect” risks damaging the United States’ leadership in science and innovation, as foreign scientists are reportedly considering skipping crucial science and technical conferences in the United States. As the senators wrote, President Trump has proposed eliminating Brand USA, which promotes the United States as a travel destination around the world. 

Udall and Heinrich requested that Ross reply, in writing, by June 30, 2017, with detailed explanations of the Department of Commerce’s plans to ensure that the U.S. remains a world leader in international travel and tourism. 

“Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer travel season,” the senators wrote. "The travel and tourism industry contributes nearly $1.6 trillion to the American economy and supports 7.6 million jobs, including in rural areas with high rates of unemployment. International visitors to the United States spent over $246 billion in 2015, supporting a $98 billion trade surplus. The Department of Commerce recently projected annual growth in travel to the U.S. through 2021. Our home state benefits from tourism and welcomes visitors from around the world, including for popular events such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Visitors to New Mexico spend more than $6 billion annually, which helps sustain more than 90,000 jobs.”

“So we are alarmed by reports that travel companies and destinations are noticing a decline in the number of leisure and business travelers looking to visit America,” the senators continued. “A recent news report on an analysis of mobile payments indicates that America's market share of international leisure tourism declined an average of 11% between October 2016 and March 2017. Other reports indicate that the travel industry describes this as the ‘Trump effect.’ Business is down apparently due to unfortunate misperceptions abroad that our country is not a welcoming place for foreign visitors due to negative rhetoric and new travel policies such as the Executive Order signed on January 27, 2017…which many believe constitutes a Muslim ban. The president’s adversarial remarks about Mexicans and policies toward Mexico are also likely contributing to the Trump effect on travel, particularly for border states like New Mexico.”

The full text of the letter is available below and here.

Dear Secretary Ross:

We are writing in response to President Trump’s proposal to eliminate Brand USA, which promotes the United States as a travel destination, and to urge you to publicly make clear that legitimate international travelers remain welcome to visit and do business in our country.

Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer travel season. The travel and tourism industry contributes nearly $1.6 trillion to the American economy and supports 7.6 million jobs, including in rural areas with high rates of unemployment. International visitors to the United States spent over $246 billion in 2015, supporting a $98 billion trade surplus. The Department of Commerce recently projected annual growth in travel to the U.S. through 2021.   Our home state benefits from tourism and welcomes visitors from around the world, including for popular events such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Visitors to New Mexico spend more than $6 billion annually, which helps sustain more than 90,000 jobs.  

So we are alarmed by reports that travel companies and destinations are noticing a decline in the number of leisure and business travelers looking to visit America. A recent news report on an analysis of mobile payments indicates that America's market share of international leisure tourism declined an average of 11% between October 2016 and March 2017. Other reports indicate that the travel industry describes this as the “Trump effect.”  Business is down apparently due to unfortunate misperceptions abroad that our country is not a welcoming place for foreign visitors due to negative rhetoric and new travel policies such as the Executive Order signed on January 27, 2017 ("Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States"), which many believe constitutes a Muslim ban. The President’s adversarial remarks about Mexicans and policies toward Mexico are also likely contributing to the Trump effect on travel, particularly for border states like New Mexico. 

We fear this Trump effect could result in negative impacts beyond the American jobs and economic growth linked directly to tourism and other international travel. It also creates risk for American leadership in science and innovation. According to numerous scientific and medical organizations, “scientific and technical conferences are a crucial part of the innovation process and help to maximize the return on taxpayer investment in scientific research.” Reports indicate that foreign scientists may skip conferences in the U.S., which could lead to such gatherings being relocated elsewhere.  Dr. Rush Holt, a former Congressman and current CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, observed that “Albert Einstein would have perhaps been unwelcome [to come to the United States] in today’s climate.” 

There are certainly real threats to homeland security that demand unyielding vigilance. We are all committed to preventing individuals who wish to do us harm from being able to enter the United States. Maintaining security, however, should not prevent efforts to promote legitimate travel that supports American jobs.  Nor should it undermine American efforts to welcome foreign students and exchange visitors, who spend $32 billion a year according to the American Council on Education. Moreover, business, leisure, and scholarly travel match the American ideals of a free and open society and serve as a form of public diplomacy that fosters good will and advances U.S. interests around the world. U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow describes this as “stealth public diplomacy” since international travelers who come to America go home and encourage others to visit the U.S. 

Congress understood that America can protect its borders while also welcoming international visitors to our country when it enacted the Travel Promotion Act (P.L. 111-145) seven years ago. Motivated in part due to a decline in international tourist travel following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, this law directed the Department of Commerce to work with the travel and tourism industry to maximize the economic and diplomatic benefits of travel to the U.S. by promoting America to travelers from around the globe.  This led to the creation of Brand USA as a public private partnership that serves as the destination marketing organization for the United States.  This initiative now supports marketing and promotion campaigns in more than 30 countries to increase travel to the U.S. Underpinning these policies is the understanding that America can protect its borders while also welcoming international travelers to our country. So we are deeply concerned that President Trump proposes to eliminate Brand USA in his fiscal year 2018 budget request.

Please respond in writing by June 30, 2017 to the following questions:

1. How many foreign tourists, business people, students, scholars, scientists, and others does the Department of Commerce expect to travel to the United States this year compared to the last five years?

2. What does the Department of Commerce expect will be the travel and tourism industry’s contribution to U.S. gross domestic product this year compared to the last five years?

3. How much does the Department of Commerce expect the travel and tourism industry will contribute toward U.S. services exports this year compared to the last five years?

4. Does the Department of Commerce still project that international travel to the U.S. should grow by 3 percent annually through 2021? If not, what increase or decline is expected and what is the reason for the change?  

5. What does the Department of Commerce estimate the overall economic impact of travel and tourism to the U.S. will be this year and how does that compare to the last five years?

6. What misperceptions exist around the world regarding United States entry policies?

7. What steps will the Department of Commerce take this year to help the United States remain a world leader in international travel and tourism exports?

8. Will you commit to finding opportunities to communicate clearly to the world that that the U.S. remains a welcoming place for foreign tourists, business people, students, and scientists?

Thank you for your assistance and reply. We look forward to working with you to enhance the international competitiveness of the U.S. travel and tourism industry which creates jobs and supports economic growth across the country.

Sincerely,