Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposed travel ban in the early part of this year caused many in the travel industry to fear a "Trump slump" in the number of people choosing to visit the United States.
Many factors influence travel decisions, making it impossible to say just how much the U.S. President's divisiveness affected the overall picture of travel to the United States in 2017. But with data for the first half of the year now available, two things are certain: This has not been a good year for U.S. tourism overall, but there has clearly been no Trump slump when it comes to Canadians.
The number of international visitors arriving in the United States from January through to June dropped 3.9 per cent compared with the same period in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Travel and Tourism Office.
With one exception, travel from every region of the world declined: fewer people from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean visited the United States in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.
The one exception? Canada, which showed 4.8-per-cent growth over the same period last year.
"Canada for us is going to be one of the bright spots," Fred Dixon, president and chief executive officer of NYC & Co., New York's official tourism organization, said of the numbers expected when the final count for 2017 is done.
"The international market overall is expected to decline by about 100,000 visitors this year," Dixon said. But the number of visitors from Canada is expected to rise 1 per cent to 2 per cent over last year, he said. "That's a real success story."
The current projection for the year is much less dire than the one made in the spring, when the organization put the figure at 300,000.
"We began to see some concerns in the market after the first travel ban was proposed," Dixon said. "I think it sent some pretty unfriendly messages into the marketplace, particularly in diverse communities."
The declines in some markets seem to suggest a fairly clear link between Trump's rhetoric and people targeted by that rhetoric opting not to visit the United States.
For example, the number of visitors from the Middle East plummeted 30 per cent in the first half of 2017 compared with 2016.
The number of visits from Mexico – historically the second biggest market for U.S. tourism behind Canada, with slightly fewer than 19 million visitors in 2016 – dropped 9.4 per cent.
Surely some of that decline was due to the value of the peso relative to the U.S. dollar. But it is also possible that Trump calling Mexican immigrants to the U.S. "rapists" and "criminals" and his determination to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border also had a role.
"I'm sure there are many people who are reconsidering travel to the U.S. because of rhetoric and messages that they've been reading and seeing in headlines," said Dan Peltier, a tourism reporter for Skift, a media company that provides travel-industry analysis.
Natasha Rhodes, a luxury-travel adviser based in Calgary, said clients have raised a moral objection to going south of the border throughout the year.
"I have had some people come to me and say, 'As long as he's in office, I refuse to travel to the States,'" she said.
An annual survey of how countries are perceived around the world conducted by the market-research company GFK and released last month found that of the 50 countries it looked at, only the U.S. ranking dropped.
"Since most of the lower scores were in response to questions about the way the country is governed, and about perceptions of the likeability, friendliness, trustworthiness, etc., of the American people, it seems likely that most of it is the result of the election of Donald Trump and his 'America First' message," says Simon Anholt, who conducted the survey.
The United States' reputation on the global stage may be suffering because of Mr. Trump, but it is economics, not politics, that has the greatest influence on where people travel, experts say.
"Currency has been the biggest challenge for us," says Chris Thompson, president and chief executive of Brand USA, an organization dedicated to promoting the United States as a travel destination.
The strong U.S. dollar likely accounts for much of the drop in visitor numbers, Thompson said.
But the U.S. Department of Commerce projects that the number of visitors to the country will increase 9 per cent, or by an additional two million people, by 2021 compared with 2016, Thompson said.
"There's nothing that really suggests to us that there's going to be anything that would have us be concerned about whether we hit those numbers," Thompson says.