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U.S. Travel Industry Worries As International Visits Decline


More people around the world are traveling for vacation and for business, but fewer are coming to the United States. New data released by the U.S. Travel Association shows that in the first seven months of 2017, there's been a 4 percent decline of international travelers coming here. The United States Commerce Department is predicting that trend will reverse. But for now, it's causing a lot of worry in the U.S. travel industry. Joining me is David DuBois from a newly created group called the Visit USA Coalition. Welcome to the program.

DAVID DUBOIS: Good day. It's my pleasure to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should start by saying that this decline in international travelers to the U.S. isn't new. It started happening in 2015. But this past year, we saw a more pronounced dip. Walk us through the numbers.

DUBOIS: Well, as you mentioned the first six months of 2017 saw a decline of around 4 percent compared to the same timeframe the previous year. So we have a big opportunity in front of us. And thus, the Visit USA Coalition has formed to try to be proactively supportive of stopping the market share decline and letting people know around the world how wonderful our country is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to parse out a little bit of the data. Numbers from July 2017 show that inbound travel from the Middle East is down 40 percent, 32 percent down from Africa, 15 percent down from South America, which has got to hurt certain regions like Florida.

DUBOIS: Oh, my goodness. Absolutely. And we want to be more welcoming.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some people have called this recent decline the Trump slump because of the shifting immigration policies of the United States like the travel ban, the rhetoric of the president calling certain countries bad names. Do you think that that is contributing to this?

DUBOIS: Well it's not helpful by any means. To extend the perception and reality that we're welcoming here, I just spent seven days in China, had very interesting conversations with our members in China. And I'm heading to Dubai, the Middle East on Sunday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are they telling you when you go to China and when you go to the Middle East about why they're not coming here?

DUBOIS: Well, you know, they're watching BBC, CNN, Fox. They're watching all kinds of different networks, and they can hear a lot of the rhetoric. We want the administration, whether it's Vice President Pence or President Trump, to now get out there and say, hey, we're a wonderful destination for travel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Your group is working with the Trump administration to attract more visitors. And ultimately, the president is this country's biggest brand ambassador. So what's your message to him?

DUBOIS: Well, we're starting with the vice president's office. We're trying to set up meetings with the Trump administration. And all of the great messaging that we've developed with the Visit USA Coalition being launched just a couple of weeks ago is certainly to let them know that we want some real positive statements to come out not only about business but about travel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the message is one thing, but there is a practical thing, which is that getting visas to the United States is a lot harder now. How do you attract new visitors to the country if it's harder to get permission to come here?

DUBOIS: Great question. The visa waiver program, which has been in place for many years, continues to be improved. More countries are added to the visa waiver program.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So visa waiver program allows the citizens of a certain country to come here without actually going through the procedure of having to go to a consulate, applying for a visa, paying fees. It's like what we have with the United Kingdom, for example, whose citizens can come here and just show up at the airport and be allowed in after questioning.

DUBOIS: Right. And we need to change the name because waiver means that it's just opening up to everybody, and I know that recommendation's in place because it's not a waiver. These folks are vetted better than almost any other system that allows international travelers into our country. So yes, we have to make it easy for people to come.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: David DuBois from the newly created group called the Visit USA Coalition, thank you so much.

DUBOIS: My pleasure. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.