Trump uncertainty slowing U.S. travel bookings: report

BERLIN (Reuters) - Demand for travel to the United States over the coming months has flattened out following a positive start to the year, with uncertainty over a possible new travel order likely deterring visitors, travel analysis company ForwardKeys said on Monday.

ForwardKeys, which analyses 16 million flight reservations a day from major global reservation systems, also said that travel from the United States to and from the Middle East has been especially hard hit after President Donald Trump’s move to ban people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“Uncertainty reigns and the presidential rhetoric appears to be deterring visitors to the U.S.,” ForwardKeys founder Olivier Jager said in a statement.

Trump is expected to sign a new executive order restricting travel to the United States on Monday. It would take effect on March 16.

U.S. travel demand is set to be a topic at hotel and travel conferences in Berlin this week.

The chief executive of hotels group Marriott International MAR.O said it was too early for conclusive evidence and that currency moves could also be playing a role, particularly for travelers from Europe.

“The comments and actions of the new Trump administration are not helpful, but we’re not seeing the data that would suggest they’ve been terribly harmful,” Arne Sorenson told Reuters in Berlin on the sidelines of the IHIF hotels conference.

After the travel ban was imposed in January, international travel to the U.S. dropped by 6.5 percent in the following eight days, ForwardKeys data showed last month.

In its latest update on Monday, ForwardKeys said bookings to the United States recovered after the courts halted the ban, but dropped again in the nine days after plans for a new ban were announced on Feb. 17.

Overall, bookings for travel to the United States over the next three months are 0.4 percent down on last year, whereas they had been 3.4 percent ahead the day before the travel restrictions were imposed.

The study also showed that accumulated U.S. bookings to the Middle East were up by 12 percent on last year in the three weeks before the ban. However, in the four weeks following the ban they were down 27 percent.

Chief executives of American Airlines Group Inc AAL.O and United Continental Holdings Inc UAL.N told reporters at an aviation summit held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week their companies had not yet noticed any effects from the original order.

“We’re not seeing any evidence of any particular decline in (travel to the United States) but we’re always worried about how other countries feel about entering our country,” United’s Oscar Munoz said.

Emirates and Qatar Airways, two of the Middle East’s biggest airlines, declined to comment when asked about demand on U.S. routes.

According to travel search site Kayak PCLN.O, searches from Europe for flights to the U.S. are down by 12 percent since the elections. However, Germans, some of the world's biggest spenders on travel, have not been deterred, with searches up 10 percent in that period, Kayak said in data provided to Reuters.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Editing by Alexander Smith and Bill Trott