US reports surprise increase in international visitors

US reports surprise increase in international visitors

Robin Searle reports from Washington

International visits to the US rose year on year in April despite President Trump’s attempts to impose a travel ban on visitors from six majority Muslim countries.

The figures were released by the US Travel Association (USTA) at the IPW conference in Washington on Tuesday of this week.

The April figures are viewed as likely to be the first to reflect any fallout from the president’s executive order issued on January 27, due to the average time lag between search and travel.

Visits from Europe were down, with 6.1% fewer UK visitors to the US compared to the same month in 2016 despite the movement of Easter, which fell in March 2016 but in April this year.

USTA chief executive Roger Dow admitted the results of the association’s Travel Trends Index had come as a surprise and said, while encouraging, they should not be taken for granted.

“We remain concerned that the American brand is in trouble and we need to make sure that brand is not tarnished,” he said.

“The administration must be loud and clear that America is closed to terror but open for business.”

Dow said the USTA had made significant steps in representing the industry’s cause to the Trump administration.

“This isn’t the first time we have needed to change the perception of an administration,” he said.

“This president has a tendency to talk fast, but he is a businessman, he is smart and we will help bring him around.”

Dow added: “Can I change the rhetoric? It may take a while to get there, but we will get there.”

The US president has proposed scrapping public-private marketing association Brand USA in his draft federal budget.

But Dow insisted: “Brand USA is here to stay, simple as that. Sometimes mistakes get made in Washington. We will work very hard to correct that mistake.”

‎Brand USA chief executive Chris Thompson said: “The president’s budget is just a starting point and a statement of priorities. The president does not appropriate, Congress appropriates.”

Thompson added: “Our organisation is in great shape so we are not even thinking about (the possibility of being shut down).

“We received authorisation with bipartisan support from both chambers and parties.”

Earlier, US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross addressed the more than 6,000 delegates at IPW.

He insisted the “dual mission” of national security and tourism promotion was achievable despite the draft budget.

Ross said: “We are taking every measure to ensure the US remains competitive . . . while also ensuring the safety of our citizens and our guests.

“We recognise [extra time required at security] will lead to more customer complaints. But let me be clear. America is open for travel and it is open to the millions of international visitors who wish it well.”

As well as aiming to retain Brand USA and ensure the country is seen as welcoming, Dow highlighted transport infrastructure as a priority for USTA.

Trump announced plans to privatise US air traffic control on Monday, with Dow admitting that antiquated systems and airports had led the US to fall “further and further” behind the rest of the world.

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