Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

No Trump slump in tourism but there could be a Trump bump

NEW YORK — Last winter, the U.S. tourism industry fretted that Trump administration policies might lead to a "Trump slump" in travel.

But those fears may have been premature. International arrivals and travel-related spending are up in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.

There might even be a "Trump bump," says Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit representing the travel industry.

A few months ago, Dow and others warned that President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and ban on travel from a handful of mostly Muslim countries could send an anti-tourism message.

But "impending doom hasn't manifested itself," Dow said in an interview. "Right now we cannot identify a loss. It's contrary to everything we've heard, but travel is in slightly better shape than it was a year ago. Everyone wants me to tell the story of the sky is falling, but for the travel industry, the sky is not falling."

Latest numbers from the U.S. Travel Association's Travel Trends Index showed 6.6 percent growth in international travel to the U.S. in April and 5 percent growth in May compared with the same months last year. The Travel Trends Index uses hotel, airline and U.S. government data.

Individual sectors have good news, too. Hotel occupancy for the first five months of 2017 was "higher than it has ever been before," said Jan Freitag, senior vice president with STR, which tracks hotel industry data. American Express Meetings & Events has "not seen a slowdown in either domestic U.S. meetings or international meetings from the U.S. in the past six months," according to senior vice president Issa Jouaneh. Even New York's National September 11 Memorial and Museum has more international visitors: 554,381 at the museum Jan. 1-July 11, up from 517,539 the same period last year.

Florida's Orlando International Airport, a gateway for theme park visitors, reported growth for domestic and international passengers year to date, though Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel said it was "still premature to determine a specific impact" from Trump administration policies.

International trips are often planned months in advance, so decisions made this year about travel may not be evident yet.

"For us, we already planned before the election," said Alban Michel, waiting with a group of Swiss tourists to see One World Trade's observatory in New York on Monday.

Companies that track online behavior say searches for U.S. travel are down. Yet tour companies that bring foreigners here are "not only holding year over year, but in many cases they're having a record year," according to Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, which markets the U.S. to the world. Thompson thinks it's "too early to tell" how the industry will fare, adding that the travel industry's ups and downs may have "little or nothing to do" with Trump and more to do with the strong dollar and lackluster economies elsewhere.

Asked if there's a "Trump slump" in travel to the 12 Southern states marketed by Travel South USA, CEO Liz Bittner said, "The truth of the matter is no. I think it was a lot of media hype." Bittner agreed that the challenge for U.S. tourism "isn't so much Trump. It's the strong U.S. dollar against some of the other currencies," which makes the U.S. an expensive destination for foreigners.

Daniele Biron, an Italian visiting the 9/11 memorial Monday while in New York for a conference, agreed that "the value of the dollar" is a factor for many travelers, but "I don't know if the politics" matter to most visitors.

Isabelle Bornemann, owner of Alaska Travel Connections, said her international group bookings are down 30 percent, mainly because of the strong dollar. But some European travel agencies tell Bornemann the decision to stay away is political, based on the perception that foreigners aren't welcome in the U.S.

Charlie Mallar, owner of the 1785 Inn in Conway, New Hampshire, had his busiest July 4th weekend in 34 years, but says "foreign visitors were off a bit — Trump effect. We have to assure foreign visitors that they are welcome in America."

The Travel Trends Index predicts slower growth for the rest of 2017, but still nearly 2 percent higher than last year through November.

New York City's tourism agency, NYC & Company, predicts that 300,000 fewer international travelers will visit the city this year than last, according to spokesman Chris Heywood. Concerns about Trump administration's policies include "rhetoric surrounding the travel ban, laptop bans on certain airline carriers and the threat of having visitors reveal social media accounts," along with "the lack of a proactive welcome message on behalf of the nation," Heywood said. New York has put up its own signs saying "New York City - Welcoming the World" in England, Germany and Mexico.

Comprehensive international arrivals data from the U.S. Commerce Department takes seven months to compile, so it will be next year before definitive 2017 statistics are available. But the Commerce Department has seen a 5 percent increase January-March over the same period last year in collections from ESTA fees, which are electronic travel authorization fees paid by foreigners who don't need visas to enter the U.S. That suggests increased visitation from visa-waiver countries like the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and Australia.

Comments
Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

When Samantha Hess’s marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Tampa Bay foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa has violated numerous rules of professional conduct and caused two clients to nearly lose their homes because he failed to tell them about settlement offers from their banks. Those were among the prelim...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Times staffThe greater Brandon area will celebrate the grand opening of its second Goodwill store beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday (April 28) at 1407 U.S. 301. The new store will add another 12,000 square feet to the complex, which includes a 200,000-...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

State regulators Friday determined that one of the country’s largest residential solar companies, San Francisco-based Sunrun, is allowed to lease solar energy equipment for homes in Florida. The decision, solar energy advocates say, could open the do...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

For the sixth month running, Florida’s unemployment rate held at a nearly 11-year low of 3.9 percent in March as steady job gains continued. While many factors kept Florida’s economy chugging along, three industries stand out for leading year-over-ye...
Published: 04/20/18
Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

ST. PETERSBURG --- Stretched across the front of Tim and Hyun Kims’ two-year-old house is a big banner with the name of a developer and the words: "I have to fix my new house."Some of what needs fixing is instantly apparent. The front steps are too ...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Walmart director of corporate communications Phillip Keene to chat about the retail giant’s latest retail strategies and how the company is winning over customers in a competitive market.Already, two of the ...
Published: 04/20/18
SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

Associated PressNEW YORK — SunTrust Banks Inc. says accounts for 1.5 million clients could be compromised following a potential data breach. The Atlanta bank says that it became aware of the potential theft by a former employee and that the investiga...
Published: 04/20/18
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18