Andres Oppenheimer

President Trump, stop scaring away foreign tourists. Take a lesson from Costa Rica.

What you should know from Trump’s first speech to Congress

President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. The president promised to deliver a message of unity during the address.
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President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. The president promised to deliver a message of unity during the address.

President Trump, please stick to the more presidential tone of your message to Congress this week and stop scaring away foreign tourists. There are signs that your daily tirades against immigrants and apocalyptic descriptions of America are causing a decline in foreign tourism to New York, Miami and other major U.S. tourism spots.

Trump’s portrayals of an “American carnage,” his calls for “extreme vetting” of foreign visitors, his accusations against Mexicans and Muslims, his effort to impose a travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, his vows to build a border wall and his plans to deport millions of undocumented foreigners — the key messages of his first month in office — are already causing U.S. tourism analysts to talk about a “Trump slump.”

Earlier this week, New York City’s tourism marketing agency, NYC & Company, announced that foreign visitors to the city — which reached 12.7 million last year — are now projected to decline by about 300,000 this year, which will translate into more than $600 million in lost sales. The agency said the decline will be due to “the recent travel ban and related rhetoric” coming from the White House.

The London-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) had earlier said that Trump’s travel ban — which was temporarilly knocked down by a court, but made headlines around the world — would hurt the U.S. tourism industry.

It’s already happening, according to several travel industry companies. Hopper Research, a flight research company, says that flight searches from foreign countries to the United States dropped by 17 percent since Trump’s inauguration. There was a drop in such searches from 94 of the 122 origin countries it researched, it said — with one exception, Russia, where searches went up.

A Feb. 27 report by the travel engine Kayak — titled “Where will Brits be going for summer 2017?” — said that “Brits are falling out of love with the USA in a major way.” It said United Kingdom web searches for flights to Orlando and Tampa are down by 58 percent, to Fort Lauderdale by 57 percent, to Miami by 52 percent and to Las Vegas by 36 percent compared with last year.

“We are seeing the beginning of a downturn due to Trump’s rhetoric and policies,” Adam Sacks, CEO of Tourism Economics, a travel forecasting firm, told me in an interview. “Mexico is going to be one of the hardest hit, because of the strained Mexico-U.S. relationship.”

Sacks told me that Miami will not suffer as much as other U.S. tourist destinations, because Latin American visitors are less influenced by anti-Trump sentiment than European and Middle Eastern visitors. Still, the Trump slump on tourism will be felt, he said.

There are other factors — not related to the populist isolationist U.S president — that may be affecting the U.S. travel industry, such as the strong U.S. dollar and a weak world economy. But a Tourism Economics comparative study with previous years of similar macro-economic circumstances shows that political perceptions matter.

“It’s extraordinarily difficult to convey a message of welcome above the volume of ‘America first’ rhetoric as it reverberates through immigration, trade and visa policies,” Sacks said.

According to projections by Sacks’ firm, overall international visits to the United States will drop by 3 percent this year. Visits from Mexico and the United Kingdom will decline by 7 percent, while those from Germany will fall by 4 percent, the projections say.

My opinion: Trump should get some anger management therapy, try to control his outbursts against almost anything foreign and make international visitors feel welcome in the United States.

He could take an example from a small country, Costa Rica, whose president, Luis Guillermo Solis, last week posted on social media an uplifting video of him playing the melody of “City of Stars” on the piano and inviting Oscar-winning “La La Land” actress Emma Stone to visit his country and enjoy its natural beauties.

When I interviewed Solis about his musical video, he laughed and said it was part of his mission: promoting his country, showing its best qualities and inviting foreigners to visit it. It’s time for Trump to stop doing the opposite.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español

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