With every new White House administration, and indeed with every shift in Congress, the regulations, norms and mood surrounding the travel industry shift, sometimes significantly. The new Trump administration is no different, offering potentially both good and bad news for travelers. Here's our look at how the Trump administration could affect travelers, along with some things to monitor as policies take effect and are adjusted, new developments are announced, and future plans are revealed.
The Travel Ban Executive Order
President Trump's January 27 executive order banning individuals from seven countries from entering the U.S. sparked public controversy and generated a fair amount of uncertainty at airports around the country. After the original ban was put on hold by the courts, the president signed a new executive order this week that revoked the old order and made the following changes, according to the Washington Post:
- The ban applies to nationals of six Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) rather than seven; Iraq has been removed from the list.
- The ban blocks only the issuance of new visas rather than keeping all travelers from the affected countries from entering the U.S.
- The ban takes effect 10 days after signing rather than immediately, and does not affect legal permanent residents, dual nationals, those with existing visas and those who've already been granted refugee or asylum status.
This version of the ban could cause less chaos for travelers than the original executive order. The 10-day grace period between the signing and implementation of the order should allow travelers and government officials alike enough time to familiarize themselves with the restrictions. And with green card and visa holders being exempted, fewer travelers should be affected by the ban. That said, there could be disruptions at airports if the new executive order inspires more protests or if there are legal challenges to the ban.
Editor's Note: President Trump's revised ban has been temporarily blocked by two federal judges.
A "Trump Slump" for U.S. Tourism?
After the signing of the original travel ban, there was some concern in the tourism industry about a drop in planned travel to the U.S. The Boston Globe reported that several online booking sites saw declines of 6 to 17 percent in searches on international flights to the U.S. after the original executive order was signed on January 27.
According to the Guardian, Kayak.com saw more than 50 percent declines in searches to Tampa, Orlando and Miami from the U.K., with searches to San Diego down 43 percent, Las Vegas 36 percent and Los Angeles 32 percent.
In the Globe report, Mike McCormick of the Global Business Travel Association said that $185 million in business travel bookings had already been lost as of February 8. For perspective, David Scowsill of the World Travel & Tourism Council noted that post-September 11 policies led to a $600 billion loss in tourism in the subsequent decade; travel to the U.S. had returned to pre-9/11 levels only just last year.
It's not yet clear what effect, if any, the new travel ban will have on bookings.
Money Savings for Americans?
If reduced demand for U.S. flights persists, it's possible that it could lead to a drop in flight, lodging and car rental prices for Americans traveling to domestic destinations. The Guardian article linked above notes that hotel prices are already down 39 percent in Las Vegas and 32 percent in New York City.
There may well be savings on international travel as well; the Guardian reports that Kayak is showing double-digit price drops in flights to Mexico, Rio de Janeiro, New Zealand and Singapore, as well as to several European destinations.
Optimism About Airport Infrastructure
The administration's broader plans could lead to other benefits for travelers. The U.S. Travel Association expressed support for President Trump's planned large-scale infrastructure expenditure, which would improve roads, bridges and airports.
The overall effort has bipartisan backing, as displayed by legislation introduced by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) to uncap passenger facility charges to fund airport improvements. The legislation would almost certainly increase fees paid by passengers, however.
Other Issues to Watch
As time passes, keep an eye on these other travel issues:
- The European Parliament voted to require visas for U.S. citizens to visit Europe, which makes for a splashy headline but so far is just a non-binding resolution. It's part of an effort to encourage full visa waiver reciprocity between the U.S. and the European Union (citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Romania and Cyprus currently must apply for a visa in order to visit the U.S., though Americans can visit all E.U. countries visa-free). These demands started under the previous administration, but it's unclear how President Trump will respond.
- Plans for a border tax could affect the strength of the U.S. dollar, though it's not yet fully clear how. A stronger dollar would be welcome news for Americans traveling abroad, who would have more spending power.
- There could be changes to the recent thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba that would affect Americans' ability to travel there. Few details are available, but the administration has said the current policy toward Cuba is under review.
- The Department of Transportation is moving toward undoing some of President Obama's consumer protections for fliers by putting on hold the public comment process for a policy that would require more disclosure of baggage fees and delaying for a year a regulation that would oblige airlines to report mishandling of wheelchairs and motorized scooters. Given the president's commitment to roll back regulations across various industries, these might not be the last traveler protections to come under question.
Tips for Travelers
Despite considerable uncertainty, there are things you can do to protect yourself, minimize hassles and delays, and get on your way.
1. Apply for Global Entry. This trusted traveler program will get you quickly through security lines and customs checkpoints. It involves a background check, an in-person interview and a $100 nonrefundable application fee. If you're approved, membership is good for five years.
2. Allow plenty of time at the airport. Any changes in travel restrictions -- and any protests in response -- could lead to confusion or holdups at the airport. Keep an eye on the local news and arrive extra-early at your airport if necessary.
3. Stay informed. It's no one's responsibility but yours to know whether you need a visa for your trip to Europe or if there are new restrictions that might affect your trip to Cuba. Following the news can keep you abreast of any developments -- positive or negative -- that might affect your trip.
4. If you have a potentially vulnerable name or ethnicity, take extra care. It is an unfortunate fact of life that folks with certain names or appearances may be more likely to face scrutiny during travel. (Note that this is not new to the current administration; I have friends with names that sound Middle Eastern who've faced extra airport screening for many years.) If you are among these numbers, make sure that you carry all necessary documentation and that someone at home is familiar with your travel plans.
Regardless of the changing landscape, we at IndependentTraveler.com remain committed to exploring the world, and, as always, will do our best to...
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