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Is the U.S. Losing Cachet as a Tourist Destination?

To overseas observers, the U.S. must look like a pretty scary place right now. What with the breakdown in law and order represented by the recent string of shootings, protests, and more shootings, and the generally vicious tone of the nation’s politics (Google “Kill Hillary” or “Trump Nazi”), anyone viewing this country through the lens of media headlines could be forgiven for thinking America had devolved into an unstable banana republic.

To the extent that their business depends on travelers from overseas, such perceptions are important to airlines, hotels, restaurants, and other enterprises, and to the hundreds of thousands of workers they employ. (The U.S. Travel Association estimates that travel directly and indirectly generated around $2.1 trillion in 2015, and supported one out of every nine U.S. jobs.)

While inbound tourism and business travel is a small slice of that pie, even a relative sliver is large in absolute terms. And an increase or decrease affects many companies, and many lives.

So it’s natural to wonder whether America’s shaky image is enough to dissuade potential visitors; and if so, to what extent. That was the question underlying a set of three surveys recently undertaken by Skift. Adults in Britain, Canada, and Brazil were asked to respond to the following query: “Given police violence, racial tension and Trump’s anti-immigrant stance in America, how are your perceptions of traveling to U.S. affected?”

The principal takeaway: Of those considering a U.S. visit, a majority of respondents in each country said their plans would not be affected by the current wave of bad news.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t concerns. Canadians, who by virtue of their proximity might be expected to have the most accurate picture of the on-the-ground situation, were the most skittish about traveling to the U.S., followed by the English.

  • 44% of Canadians reported they were less likely to visit
  • 37% of Brits reported they were less likely to visit
  • 27% of Brazilians reported they were less likely to visit

Likelihood is a fairly squishy concept, to be sure. Those with qualms may visit anyway. Or not. What is significant, either way, is the doubt, and what it signifies: Perception matters.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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