TORONTO — Both Air Canada and WestJet have issued new airport security notices advising passengers flying to and from U.S. gateways to get to the airport a minimum of two hours prior to departure, in anticipation of long lineups and delays with new U.S. security measures coming into effect tomorrow.
“Beginning July 19, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will implement enhanced security measures for all guests on international flights flying to the United States. The security measures will include enhanced overall screening at departure airports, heightened inspection of personal electronic devices including tablets and laptops and increased security protocols at departure airports. This may affect the time it takes to get through security and board your flight,” reads WestJet’s notice.
WestJet “strongly encourages” passengers to arrive at the airport a minimum of two hours prior to scheduled departures, to allow for additional screening time.
WestJet is also asking passengers to ensure that all personal electronic devices larger than a smartphone are easily accessible and have any cases, covers and/or packaging removed, and that all passengers arrive at their departure gate a minimum of 45 minutes prior to departure time.
Air Canada has posted a similar advisory: “Due to security measures implemented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you are encouraged to arrive at the airport at least two hours before your scheduled departure when flying to the U.S. to allow for additional screening time. Heightened security measures have been introduced by DHS that require enhanced screening of personal electronic devices such as tablets and laptops. All personal electronic devices larger than a smartphone will need to be easily accessible and have all cases, cover and/or packaging removed.”
Airlines around the world are issuing their own advisories for passengers flying to and from the U.S.
New security rules apply to roughly 180 foreign and U.S.-based airlines, flying from 280 cities in 105 countries, according to Homeland Security. About 2,000 international flights land in the U.S. daily.
All this comes as U.S. tourism industry reps say they’re cautiously optimistic about inbound international travel. Not too long ago the U.S. tourism industry fretted that Trump administration policies might lead to a ‘Trump slump’ in travel. But those fears may have been premature. International arrivals and travel-related spending are up in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.
There might even be a “Trump bump”, says U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow.
A few months ago, Dow and others warned that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and ban on travel from a handful of mostly Muslim countries could send an anti-tourism message.
But “impending doom hasn’t manifested itself,” Dow said in an interview. “Right now we cannot identify a loss. It’s contrary to everything we’ve heard, but travel is in slightly better shape than it was a year ago. Everyone wants me to tell the story of the sky is falling, but for the travel industry, the sky is not falling.”
Latest numbers from the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Trends Index showed 6.6% growth in international travel to the U.S. in April and 5% growth in May compared with the same months last year.
The Travel Trends Index uses hotel, airline and U.S. government data.
Individual sectors have good news, too. Hotel occupancy for the first five months of 2017 was “higher than it has ever been before,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice-president with STR, which tracks hotel industry data. American Express Meetings & Events has “not seen a slowdown in either domestic U.S. meetings or international meetings from the U.S. in the past six months,” according to senior vice-president Issa Jouaneh.
Florida’s Orlando International Airport, a gateway for theme park visitors, reported growth for domestic and international passengers year to date, though Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel said it was “still premature to determine a specific impact” from Trump administration policies.
International trips are often planned months in advance, so decisions made this year about travel may not be evident yet.
Companies that track online behaviour say searches for U.S. travel are down. Yet tour companies that bring foreigners here are “not only holding year over year, but in many cases they’re having a record year,” according to Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, which markets the U.S. to the world. Thompson thinks it’s “too early to tell” how the industry will fare, adding that the travel industry’s ups and downs may have “little or nothing to do” with Trump and more to do with the strong dollar and lacklustre economies elsewhere.
Asked if there’s a ‘Trump slump’ in travel to the 12 Southern states marketed by Travel South USA, CEO Liz Bittner said, “The truth of the matter is no. I think it was a lot of media hype.” Bittner agreed that the challenge for U.S. tourism “isn’t so much Trump. It’s the strong U.S. dollar against some of the other currencies,” which makes the U.S. an expensive destination for foreigners.
Isabelle Bornemann, owner of Alaska Travel Connections, said her international group bookings are down 30%, mainly because of the strong dollar. But some European travel agencies tell Bornemann the decision to stay away is political, based on the perception that foreigners aren’t welcome in the U.S.’
Charlie Mallar, owner of the 1785 Inn in Conway, New Hampshire, had his busiest July 4th weekend in 34 years, but says “foreign visitors were off a bit – Trump effect. We have to assure foreign visitors that they are welcome in America.”
The Travel Trends Index predicts slower growth for the rest of 2017, but still nearly 2% higher than last year through November.
New York City’s tourism agency, NYC & Company, predicts that 300,000 fewer international travellers will visit the city this year than last, according to spokesman Chris Heywood. Concerns about Trump administration’s policies include “rhetoric surrounding the travel ban, laptop bans on certain airline carriers and the threat of having visitors reveal social media accounts,” along with “the lack of a proactive welcome message on behalf of the nation,” Heywood said. New York has put up its own signs saying ‘New York City – Welcoming the World’ in England, Germany and Mexico.
Comprehensive international arrivals data from the U.S. Commerce Department takes seven months to compile, so it will be next year before definitive 2017 statistics are available. But the Commerce Department has seen a 5% increase January-March over the same period last year in collections from ESTA fees, which are electronic travel authorization fees paid by foreigners who don’t need visas to enter the U.S. That suggests increased visitation from visa-waiver countries like the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and Australia.
With files from the Associated Press