June 6, 2017 1:36 am JST

Trump's tough talk putting squeeze on US tourism

Foreign visitors seen dropping 4m this year, costing economy billions

RINA TAKAHASHI, Nikkei staff writer

Times Square, in the heart of New York City, is a favorite destination for tourists.

NEW YORK -- Amid concerns fueled by President Donald Trump's rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants, the U.S. is expected to suffer a significant drop in traffic and total spending by international visitors in the coming years.

Some 80 million foreign visitors are believed to have spent $250 billion in the U.S. in 2016. Traffic is expected to fall by 4.34 million in 2017, costing the economy $7.4 billion, according to American research company Tourism Economics.

Lost opportunities

Take a 26-year-old Muslim woman in Indonesia who once wanted to go to the U.S. but changed her mind after Trump imposed an entry ban on nationals of certain predominantly Muslim countries.

Explaining that she wears a hijab and worries about getting in trouble, the woman said she would not visit the U.S. anytime soon.

Trump's "America first" stance is being taken as a message that the country is no longer a welcoming destination, Tourism Economics President Adam Sacks said.

The president's provocations are expected to hit traffic from Canada, Mexico and the Middle East especially hard. Inbound travel from the Mideast excluding Israel is down about 30%, Sacks said -- likely a result of the travel ban and anti-Muslim comments.

Leaving money on the table

With the average foreign visitor spending $3,160 while in the U.S., the downturn could severely impact hotels, restaurants and other players in the tourism and entertainment sectors. The country could lose another 6.28 million visitors and $10.8 billion in revenue in 2018, according to Tourism Economics.

Even New York, the top destination for foreigners in the U.S., faces a decline. A record 12.7 million or so foreigners visited the city in 2016. The figure is expected to shrink 2.4% to 12.4 million this year. Although traffic from Japan and other parts of Asia will likely hold steady, traffic from America's neighbors is expected to slow.

Foreign customers spend four times as much as Americans, according to Christopher Heywood, senior vice president of global communications at the city's official tourism promotion organization. The economy will be dealt a roughly $900 million blow if foreign visitors decrease by 300,000, Heywood said.

New York has launched in Europe and elsewhere an advertising campaign stressing its diversity and tolerance. It is working hard to counter the xenophobic image of the U.S. that Trump's words have spread.

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