Tuesday Briefing: Travel Groups Speak Out on Trump Immigration Ban

Airport Protests
Demonstrators gather in the baggage claim area during a protest against President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel to the United States by citizens of several countries Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. // Photo by Jeffrey M. Smith/The Times Herald via AP

With protests set to continue this week at airports across the United States over President Donald Trump’s immigration ban, top travel industry officials are weighing in on what the policy means for the travel industry. 

David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), was critical of the policy in a written statement provided to Travel Agent, saying that the order "goes directly against the fundamental right of Freedom to Travel. It has created immense confusion among travelers and travel companies worldwide.”

The WTTC argued that all people have the right to cross international borders safely and efficiently for business and tourism purposes, and that suspending travel based only on a person’s nationality or origin is wrong. The WTTC also criticized the implementation of the ban, saying that a lack of prior consultation and communication with airlines and border officials led to unnecessary travel disruptions. 

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“If this move by the Trump Administration is designed to ‘prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals’, it is important to point out that the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the recent past have been perpetrated by home grown, radicalized nationals of the country involved,” said Scowsill. “None of the shocking domestic incidents in the U.S. since 2001 have been attributed to external terrorists who have specifically flown into the country to commit an atrocity. Preventing ‘aliens’ from entering the U.S. for legitimate business or leisure purposes is misguided and counter-productive for the American economy.”

In an interview with The Hill, the Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, said that, while the initial impact of the policy could be limited, the long-term message could have a negative impact. 

“In this case, it’s a limited universe of people directly affected, but carries with it not inconsequential fall-out potential when it comes to reputational risk and sending an unintended message,” Grella told The Hill, noting that the seven countries affected by the ban are not in the top 20 travel markets to the United States. “People will be understanding and forgiving when security is your motivation, but if they are left with other takeaways that leave the impression that they’re not welcome here, than that’s obviously a different story.”

In a statement released yesterday, American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) President and CEO Zane Kerby called for rapid action so that travel agents could understand the new rules. 

“ASTA remains vigilant in both monitoring the situation surrounding the Immigration Executive Order and keeping our members up-to-date and prepared to serve their clients,” Kerby said. “The Order calls for the development of ‘standards to prevent terrorist or criminal infiltration by foreign nationals’ as well as inter-agency work to create ‘uniform screening standards for all immigration programs government-wide.’ We urge the Administration to conduct its review expeditiously so that travel industry stakeholders know the rules of the road when serving their clients and that travel disruptions are kept to a minimum.”

Reuters reports that several countries and tourism organizations in Asia are already seeking to draw in tourists who may be turned off by the new policy. “With the world now getting more isolationist it's time for ASEAN to start making it easier for tourists to come,” Tony Fernandes, AirAsia CEO, said in a tweet. 

"The Middle East is a big market for us, especially in the medical tourism sector. They may choose to visit Thailand more and this may also boost our sector," Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.

Travel + Leisure has published a list of tips on what travelers should expect in the wake of the new policy. These include allowing for more time at the airport due to potential delays caused by heightened security or disruptions in service, double-checking any necessary travel documents, and being aware of the views on the ban in the country to which a traveler is headed. 

The executive order issued Friday put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees to enter the United Staes, as well as an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order stranded travelers around the world over the weekend including, initially, those with green cards granting them permanent residence in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) later issued an order exempting legal residents from the ban. Multiple courts have intervened to block portions of President Trump’s executive order, and a series of lawsuits remains pending. 

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