The president can and should persuade “undecided” travelers to come to America by directly conveying a sustained message of welcome.
The 2016 election is behind us, but President Trump still has some campaigning to do.
Evidence is building that recent executive actions, the electronics ban on some Middle Eastern flights and proposals for “extreme vetting” have already alienated some travelers from directly affected countries—but as many of my colleagues have pointed out, it doesn’t have to be that way. Achieving a balance between security and travel facilitation, and then communicating a message of welcome to international travelers around the world can help mitigate negative perceptions of the U.S. abroad—and stave off some potentially major damage to our economy.
Many international travelers might feel unwelcome in the U.S. right now and, regrettably, more still may choose to avoid coming here, if we do nothing. However, as he did in his run for high office, President Trump can use his considerable campaigning chops to win travelers to our shores—most importantly, those “undecided” travelers from allied countries who may be unsure about future trips to the U.S.
Think of it this way: the U.S. is like a candidate with strong credentials and a viable path to winning—in this case, attracting travelers and retaining its top spot in the international travel market—but such a win is not guaranteed. We cannot be presumptuous and assume that, just because America has a wealth of fantastic destinations and natural beauty, travelers will keep coming. Other destinations like France and the United Arab Emirates are steadily growing their international travel market share, and would happily welcome any travelers who are weighing a location for a long-haul visit.
Besides, after a “lost decade” of international travel growth in the U.S., fueled by complex, often lengthy security procedures coupled with perceptions abroad post-9/11 that discouraged many visitors, international travel only recently regained its pre-2001 market share. That progress could easily be rolled back, if the Trump administration does not campaign consistently to sway travelers in our direction.
Right now, travelers from the countries in the Middle East and North Africa most affected by recent rhetoric and policies are, unfortunately, not likely to easily change their minds about the U.S. That’s the reality. However, there remains a vast population of “undecided” (or, in U.S. political parlance, “purple” or “swing”) countries, whose citizens will happily travel here—once they are aware that we are still the welcoming destination we have always been.
Residents of Canada and many European countries, in particular, need reassurance. Canada is our No. 1 international inbound market, but Canadian Girl Guide troops and some school groups have now suspended trips to the U.S. in response to the current political climate. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that European leisure and business travelers are choosing to avoid future travel to the U.S. We cannot afford to lose the goodwill of travelers from our most stalwart international markets, so now is the time to swing their vote.
Here’s how President Trump and his administration can do so: 1.) Be clear, precise and welcoming in messaging about travel security measures affecting international travelers, especially around things like executive orders, electronics bans and visa restrictions; 2.) Clearly and explicitly remind embassies and consular offices abroad that a key part of their mission is facilitating travel to the U.S.; and 3.) Support Brand USA, the U.S. destination marketing organization—in American election terminology, one can think of them as our country’s “Super PAC,” dedicated to swaying international traveler/voters in our direction.
These communication action items, in addition to policy support for expanding Preclearance, preserving the Visa Waiver Program, and protecting our Open Skies agreements, are how President Trump can win the campaign against negative perceptions, and keep travelers coming to our shores. Doing so is directly in line with his stated campaign aim of keeping American jobs at home, as well—travel is a top-10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia, supporting 15.3 million un-exportable U.S. jobs. International travel, in particular, is our country’s No. 1 service export, and second-largest export overall—and without the $87 travel trade surplus we enjoyed last year, our country’s $500 billion trade deficit would be 17 percent larger.
Creating jobs and shrinking the deficit are some of the platforms President Trump campaigned on at home. In order to keep those promises, he needs to do some campaigning on behalf of America’s image overseas.