Trump Speech Spotlights Travel Infrastructure, Travel Ban Delayed Again

Control towers at Chicago O'Hare International Airport
The GBTA said the infrastructure plan could be a boon for U.S. airports. // Photo by Rex Wholster/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Last night’s first Congressional address by President Donald Trump had some important highlights for the travel industry. 

During the speech Trump said that he would ask Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States. The plan, which had been one of his major proposals during the presidential campaign, would be financed through public and private capital. 

What does it mean for travel? Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), tells Travel Agent that “the infrastructure plan is welcomed in part because it should be a bi-partisan effort. Unlike the contentious ACA repeal and replace, this will likely get done without a fight. Some of our airports need not just updating but expansion to provide the capacity to relieve congestion and provide for growth. This is important for traveler productivity, affordable airfares, the economy, safety and the environment.”

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“We applaud President Trump’s vision to jumpstart the development and improvement of the infrastructure that connects our country – and continue to believe that modernizing our ATC [air traffic control] infrastructure in the sky is every bit as critical to our economy as roads, rail and bridges,” a spokesperson for airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) said in a statement provided to Travel Agent. “A4A and our members stand ready to work with the Administration and Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to move forward with transformational reforms that will gets politics out of the way and allow for modernization to happen on the scale and pace befitting America’s global leadership in aviation.”

According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the plan was a positive sign for U.S. airports and business travel. 

“The importance of Infrastructure improvement for our country is something that both sides of the aisle can agree on,” said Michael W. McCormick, GBTA executive director and COO. “For the future of business travel, it is paramount that the President and Congress work together on responsible investment in transportation infrastructure to ensure that money is spent wisely and that these investments made safeguard the safe and expedient travel and freedom of movement of all travelers.”

The GBTA also called on Congress and the administration to pass an FAA Reauthorization Bill that accelerates the NextGen air traffic control system, as well as to create long-term funding stability and address security and passenger screening concerns. 

At the same time, the GBTA warned against policies that would unduly restrict travel into the United States. 

“As we await a new executive order on travel, we urge the Trump administration to keep in mind the importance of business travel to our nation’s economy,” McCormick said. “Closing our borders sends a message to the world that the United States is closed for business. Of course, security always comes first, but GBTA has always been a proponent for expanding proven security programs and developing new technology to facilitate information-sharing among governments to ensure travelers are always vetted properly, making us all more safe and secure.”

The U.S. Travel Association was similarly optimistic on the infrastructure plan, but warned against the confusion that resulted from the sudden implementation of the original travel ban. 

“We continue to be encouraged by the president’s oft-repeated commitment to our transportation infrastructure, particularly our airports that are so economically crucial yet falling behind due to lack of investment,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow in a written release. “The trillion-dollar figure he attaches to his infrastructure vision clearly faces some political hurdles; for that reason we encourage the president to kick-start his wider agenda by raising the cap on existing airport user fees, an approach that already has broad support across the political spectrum and achieves his aim of financing projects through both public and private capital.”

“The U.S. travel community looks forward to seeing the details of the president’s revised plan to ensure proper vetting of visa applicants—a worthy objective to be sure,” Dow said. “We trust that it will be precisely worded in order to avoid the confusion sown by his initial order among prospective travelers to the U.S. We also encourage the president to embrace language making it clear once again that legitimate, thoroughly screened visitors are valued and welcomed by our country. With travel as our No. 3 export and a top 10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia, our economy can ill afford unintended consequences of policies that are interpreted by some as a red light to travelers generally, not just those who pose a security risk.”

Travel Ban Update

Following the speech the White House canceled previous plans to issue a newly revised travel ban, according to sources cited by the Washington Post. The revised ban reportedly differs from the original in that it exempts current visa holders, and removes an exception to the refugee prohibition for religious minorities. Critics of the original order had argued that that prohibition was unconstitutional because it was meant to discriminate on the basis of religion by only allowing Christian refugees into the country. 

According to other sources cited by CBS News, the revised order could also drop Iraq from the list of banned countries. 

“Including Iraq on the seven-country travel ban list was perceived as shocking and insulting to Iraqis who are fighting alongside Americans,” diplomats from the country told CBS News. 

Ahead of the newly revised order, the travel industry continues to asses the impact of the policy on travel to and from the United States. 

According to a new travelhorizons survey of 2,300 U.S. adults by travel marketing firm MMGY Global, 43 percent feel that their international travel plans will be impacted by the Trump administration. 

43 percent of respondents to the survey said that the Trump administration will have at least some impact on where they choose to vacation internationally, while one quarter (26 percent) say it will have no impact at all. There was a substantial difference between Democrat and Republican respondents, with 52 percent of Democrats feeling the Trump administration will have some impact on their choice of international vacation destinations, while 31 percent of Republicans feel the same way.

Responses differed by age as well. 56 percent of Millennials feel that the Trump administration will have some impact on their international vacation choices, compared to 33 percent of Xers, 15 percent of Young Boomers, 29 percent of Older Boomers and 30 percent of Matures.

In the week following the ban the GBTA released a study reporting a loss of approximately $185 million in business travel bookings, saying that the uncertainty surrounding travel in general had a “rippling effect” on traveler confidence.

“The current state of uncertainty over the travel ban could cause a similar impact on business travel,” the GBTA said at the time.

In a press call shortly after the original ban was implemented, Eben Peck, SVP, government and industry affairs at the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) said that the ban was having a “chilling effect” on the travel industry. At the same time, ASTA said that the views of its membership on the policy are split, and that it would release a survey diving deeper into what its member agents think of the ban.

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow had said that, while his organization recognizes the need to maintain national security, the order could hurt business and leisure travel to the United States.

"Over the past two weeks, our members have voiced their concerns about how an unintended consequence of this executive order could be a reduction in both international leisure and business travel to the United States,” Dow said. “Destinations large and small depend on these visitors to sustain local businesses and jobs.

"That said, we stand with the administration, Congress and law enforcement officials, as we all remain vigilant during an era of constantly changing global security dynamics,” Dow said. “As always, we believe in striking a balance that places a premium on both security and our nation’s history as a welcoming place for travelers from around the globe."