Impact of US Foreign Policy Events on International Travel to US

Patrick Surry - Jul. 11, 2018

The past month has been a particularly busy one for the Trump administration, with events and policies like the G7 Summit and the controversial Travel Ban taking effect, impacting both the US and abroad.

Given the flurry of events, a question seemed to remain: How was the US impacted from an international tourism and sentiment perspective? To answer this, Hopper's data science team analyzed over 6 billion flight searches to determine how international flight search demand to US destinations has changed given recent US events and policies.

Key Dates Under Consideration:

  • 5/31: Trump tariffs announced, affecting countries worldwide
  • 6/8: G7 Summit commences in Canada
  • 6/9: Trump criticizes Trudeau on final day of G7 Summit in Canada
  • 6/15: Mexico border crisis begins getting widespread media attention (continues through June)
  • 6/26: Travel Ban upheld by the Supreme Court
  • 7/6: First set of Trump tariffs against China are implemented
  • 7/11: NATO Summit commences in Brussels

Findings

G7 Summit: As the G7 summit commenced (June 8 - 9), flight search interest to the US began declining from a number of participating foreign entities.

  • Search demand for flights from Canada to US destinations dropped by 21%*
  • Search demand for flights from France to US destinations dropped 11.5%
  • Search demand for flights from Italy to US destinations dropped 11%
  • Search demand for flights from Germany to US destinations dropped 6%
  • Search demand for flights from Europe to US destinations dropped 2.6%
  • Search demand for flight from Japan to US destinations showed no noticeable change

*On the final day of the summit (June 9), Trump criticized Justin Trudeau on Twitter. In the few days following the US president's tweet about Trudeau, flight search demand from Canada to US destinations dropped by 21%. Compared to the same timeframe last year, this represents a 22.6% drop year over year.

US Border Crisis: After the border crisis began receiving increased media attention around mid-June, the proportion of flight search interest from Mexico to the US dropped by over 8%.

Travel Ban Upheld by Supreme Court: On June 26th, the Supreme Court announced that it will uphold the controversial travel ban. Over 70% of the 96 countries we analyzed showed a decline in the the proportion of flight search interest to US destinations. Among the affected countries, we had only had a significant amount of flight search demand data for Iran, Somalia, and Venezuela.

  • Search demand for flights from Iran to US destinations dropped by 11%
  • Search demand for flights from Somalia to US destinations dropped by 32%
  • Search demand for flights from Venezuela to US destinations remained unchanged

Other countries that were not directly affected by the travel ban, but showed significant drops in search interest include:

  • Search demand for flights from Iraq to US destinations dropped by 31%
  • Search demand for flights from Sudan to US destinations dropped by 29%
  • Search demand for flights from Saudi Arabia to US destinations dropped by 28%

Tariffs: On July 6th, the United States and China's respective tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's goods took effect. The proportion of flight search interest from China to the US declined by nearly 8% in the following days.

NATO Summit: As the NATO summit commenced (July 11-12) in Brussels, flight search interest to the US from Europe decreased 5%. However, flight search demand from Russia to the US increased 11% in anticipation of Trump and Putin's meeting days later.

Figure 1: Changes in daily flight search demand from various countries

Effects of Trump's Presidency on International Travel to the US

We've been monitoring international flight search demand to the US since Trump took office. During the initial days of the executive order restricting some international travel to the US, we saw significantly lower search from international destinations to the US, correlating with media attention. As we covered above, we still observe short-term drops on a country level depending on the specific event or policy. The long term trend shows weaker international demand overall.

Flight search demand to the US from non-US origins has been down about 12% since Trump's election. Flight search demand was lowest following the first travel ban announcement, but has remained below the levels we observed when Obama was in office.

Travelers from non-US origins searched for US destinations about 35% of the time before election day (searching elsewhere in the world about 65% of the time). Since then, there's been a shift away from US destinations (averaging about 31%) representing about a 12% change in demand. We've seen a strong correlation between media coverage around the travel ban and flight search demand plummeting.

Figure 2: Long-term impact on international flight search demand to the US since Trump's presidency began

Methodology

The data utilized for this study comes from Hopper's real-time "shadow traffic" containing the results of consumer airfare searches. Hopper collects, from several Global Distribution System partners, ten to fifteen billion airfare price quotes every day from searches happening all across the web.

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