Here’s a sign that President Trump’s efforts to restrict who is allowed to enter the United States might be working a bit too well: One of the world’s biggest international airlines is cutting back flights to the US.
Emirates Airline, which has more international traffic than any other carrier in the world, has announced that it’s reducing the number of flights it offers to five major American destinations after a plunge in booking from the Middle East that followed from Trump’s attempts to restrict travel from the region.
“Over the past three months, we have seen a significant deterioration in the booking profiles on all our U.S. routes, across travel segments,” the airline said. “Emirates has therefore responded as any profit-oriented enterprise would and we will redeploy capacity to serve demand on other routes on our global network.”
In March, the airline said that booking to the US immediately fell by 35 percent in the wake of Trump’s first executive order banning nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries in January.
And that 35 percent drop occurred before the US announced in March a separate ban on most electronic devices larger than smartphones on flights from eight Middle Eastern countries — including the United Arab Emirates. Middle Eastern carriers are naturally worried that the move will dampen demand further, especially among business travelers.
Emirates flights from Dubai to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando will go from seven days a week to just five times a week starting in May. In early June, flights to Seattle and Boston will be reduced from twice a day to just once a day, as will flights to Los Angeles in July.
Someone who supports Trump’s travel restrictions might argue that a decline in the number of travelers from the Middle East (and even people stopping over in the Middle East) is a price worth paying for security. There are two problems with that argument. The first is that the vast majority of terror attacks in the US come not from foreigners, but from American citizens.
The second is that it’s not just Middle Easterners who are becoming less inclined to visit the US — it’s the entire world. A recent Washington Post report found that tourism to the US from countries that haven’t been targeted by the travel bans or the electronics ban has dropped significantly.
Hopper, a travel-booking app that tracks airfare prices, found that demand for travel to the US has dropped “in nearly every country” since January, according to the Post. Searches for flights to the US from Ireland and New Zealand are down 35 percent; searches for flights from China are down 40 percent. One of the few exceptions to the decline in interest in flying to the US is Russia, where flight searches are up 60 percent.
As the Post notes, Hostelling International USA reported that 2,000 overnight stays from European travel groups were canceled just days after Trump’s first executive order.
And that apprehension among Europeans is likely to continue. Trump administration officials have indicated that they’re considering new “extreme vetting” procedures that apply to any kind of visitor to the US, including staunch allies in Europe. If those measures are put into place, even French and German citizens could be asked to hand over cellphone contacts and passwords to their social media accounts, and answer questions about their ideological worldview.
And fewer tourists coming to the US means less money flowing into the US economy. As the Post reports, Tourism Economics, a Philadelphia-based analytics firm, estimates that 4.3 million fewer people will visit the US this year than in 2016, resulting in a whopping $7.4 billion in lost revenue for the US economy. And 2018 is expected to be even worse.
It’s a trend that has analysts in the travel industry worrying that the US is on the brink of repeating the more than half-trillion dollar loss in revenue that came about in the aftermath of 9/11, when tourists felt the US was unsafe and unwelcoming to foreigners.
One of Trump’s central promises has been to generate tens of millions of new jobs in the US. A big decline in the number of people who want to visit the US won’t help that.