The US tourism industry is scrambling to get more visitors after 2017 numbers indicate a sharp decline in international tourists — and their dollars. Seattle travel is no exception.
“The whispers are that it’s because President Trump’s perceived xenophobia is a turn-off,” KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross said.
But according to Visit Seattle CEO Tom Norwalk, Trump is not the sole cause of the slump. Declines in travel could be seen going back to 2015, he notes. But he can’t deny that the president is a factor.
“I think it’s not only administration and the rhetoric we’ve listened to this last year,” Norwalk said. “Certainly, the US dollar has to take a little bit of the blame as well. It is concerning because we’ve been on a long, wonderful growth spurt on international visitations.”
“From some countries we are seeing dips, and we are seeing reduced spending and that’s exactly why I think the industry in the U.S. is concerned and trying to figure out some ways to get through to the Trump administration about the power of travel and why it is so critical to employment,” he said.
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USA Today reports that current numbers have the American travel industry nervous. There was a 4 percent decline in international visitors to the United States in 2017 (a total of 41 million visitors). This happened as global travel increased by 7.9 percent between 2015-17. Yet the share of that global travel to the United States dropped from 13.6 percent to 11.9 percent during that same time. Spending from international travelers dropped by about 3.3 percent in 2017.
It all adds up. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the U.S. economy lost out on $4.6 billion and 40,000 jobs because of last year’s decline.
In Seattle, Norwalk says the travel industry has targeted key markets where they advertise and draw travelers from. These markets include China; Korea; Japan; the United Kingdom; Germany; France; Australia and New Zealand.
In general, Seattle travel and tourism are healthy. But Norwalk says that some numbers down. There is decreased international tourism coming through Sea-Tac Airport and from Canada.
“We have seven key countries with marketing reps based in those countries, selling and promoting Seattle — the gateway to the Northwest,” Norwalk said. “And we are hearing from them all the time (about concerns) when there is news about bans when there is rhetoric about America first – and we talk with travel writers and travel buyers … we are hearing it more than we have ever heard it before. It’s a concern and I think we are feeling it to some extent.”
“I don’t think we can say it’s because of the president,” Norwalk said. “I do know that in the new administration’s first year, coming off of seven to eight years of the first travel strategy our nation has ever had under President Obama … what we’ve seen is that there hasn’t been interest — from the administration’s standpoint — to really be a welcoming voice to anybody around the world on international arrivals.”
“And the constant talk of bans, sometimes legitimate and sometimes maybe not legitimate, [raises] concerns,” he added. “All that is a recipe for uncertainty. I think if there is one thing that hurts international travel and decision-making planning is uncertainty.”
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