Among the stories I included in Dispatches from the Future of Museums last week was a piece from Quartz Media speculating that the US could be on the verge of “tourism shock.” I’m worried about the economic impact of such a downturn on museums. Post 2008, my colleagues and I found that large museums in major cities were buffered from the recession in part by the reliability of international tourism.
The Quartz article cites recent research by Hopper, a digital travel agency. Hopper used flight search data to assess the impact of the new administration on travel by comparing data before and after the inauguration, compared to a similar period last year. The findings include (quoting from Hopper’s summary):
- “Flight search demand from international origins to the US has dropped 17% overall since Trump’s inauguration, and the implementation of the travel ban, compared to the final weeks of the Obama presidency.
- Flight search demand to the US has fallen in 94 of 122 origin countries where we have significant data.
- International demand is down for all major US destinations, though east coast destinations have fared better than average with New York and Boston suffering least. San Francisco and Las Vegas have seen the largest declines in search interest.”
This isn’t the only piece of data suggesting a chill in international travel. A study by Forward Keys tracked actual declines in booked travel after the travel ban, finding that “international trends in bookings to the US are down 6.5% compared with the equivalent period the year before,” noting that this reflects a decline in travel from many regions of the world, not just the countries affected by the ban.
|Protests against the order at San Francisco
International Airport on January 29, 2017
Some of the decline may result from organized grassroots efforts to express concern about the travel ban. In late January, more than 4,000 university staff and researchers signed a petition to boycott international academic conferences in the US to show solidarity with colleagues affected by the travel ban. An opinion piece in the Toronto Star encouraged Canadians to boycott travel to the US. While the travel ban is on hold, due to a nationwide restraining order issued by U.S. District Senior Judge James Robart of Seattle, many continue to express concern about the motivations behind the ban, and about efforts to reinstate some similar constraints on travel to the US.
Ben Kershaw, the Alliance’s Director of Government Relations will be representing us at the travel industry’s legislative fly-in and Capitol Hill day at the end of March. The policies they advocate are primarily geared toward facilitating travel—things like airport modernization funding, the Visa Waiver Program, and trusted traveler programs like TSA PreCheck. However, Ben and I will be monitoring the news more broadly for data that may help museums project trends in travel in tourism over the coming year. If your museum conducts its own monitoring of such forecasts, I would love to hear from you as well.