WASHINGTON - Foreign tourism to the United States, which supports millions of American jobs, is slowing, possibly because President Donald Trump sought controversial travel restrictions on visitors from some Muslim majority nations. Online searches for flights to the United States are down in most major nations, but not just those hit by restrictions.
The travel restrictions sparked demonstrations, critical press coverage and a flurry of lawsuits. A petition drive gathered thousands of signatures in support of British citizen and mathematics teacher Juhel Miah, who was removed from a U.S.-bound plane as he was escorting British students on a school trip to America.
“I really think I was being targeted. Is that because of my name? Is that because of the way I look or the color of my skin? Who knows? I do not know,” Miah said.
Watch: Travel Restrictions Worry US Tourism Industry
Miah is one of thousands of people tangled up in the recent restrictions. He thinks his experience may mean fewer British tourists and students will head to the U.S.
“I have been approached by other teachers, and they have told me until this is settled they are questioning whether they are going to bring their pupils along to America,” he said.
Damage has been done?
Pace University Professor Andrew Coggins, who researches travel issues, said the Trump administration's push to restrict immigration is making some foreign tourists and students wary of visiting out of concern they might face bigotry and prejudice. He said such worries mean New York City alone will see hundreds of thousands fewer visitors and lose millions of dollars in revenue. Professor Coggins said efforts to revise the restrictions are pointless.
“The damage has been done. I think the resentment is there. It has been generated and it is not going to go away that fast,” he said.
Coggins and other travel experts said worries about the welcome they get in the United States are likely to hurt visitation even from nations, like Canada, that do not have have a Muslim majority. These concerns come at a time when the strong dollar makes the United States an expensive destination for foreign visitors and as competing nations are stepping up efforts to attract tourists.
Tourism is extremely competitive, according to Patricia Rojas-Ungar of the U.S. Travel Association.
“Travelers have a choice, and if they feel any concern or anxiety about traveling to a destination, they can very well pick another destination,” she said.
Rojas-Ungar said if visitors head elsewhere it could hurt an industry that is important to every one of the U.S. states.
Tourism a trillion-dollar industry
“Travel and tourism is a top economic driver for the U.S. economy. It is a $2.1-trillion industry, and we support 15 million American jobs." Coggins said, "Tourism creates jobs on the ground. It supports restaurants, it supports hotels, all of which are jobs that can't be exported."
Rojas-Unbar said she hopes the Trump administration will make policies clearer in the future and work to project a warm welcome to visitors.
Meantime, Juhel Miah has received encouraging emails and letters from Americans, including one from a fifth-grader in Atlanta. The teacher said he is still eager to visit America.