U.S. tourism sector faces squeeze of strong dollar, Trump travel ban

BERLIN (Reuters) - The U.S. travel sector is bracing for a year in which a strong dollar and uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s travel ban could deter visitors, industry representatives said at the world’s biggest tourism trade fair in Berlin.

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Trump on Monday signed a revised executive order banning citizens from six Muslim-majority nations from travelling to the United States.

Those countries account for a tiny percentage of U.S. visitors, but there is growing concern that the order could hurt the image of the United States and scare other tourists away.

“I’m glad that the travel ban has been revised, but it still has some problems. It sends a message that we are not welcoming,” David Kong, chief executive of U.S.-based hotel group Best Western, said on the sidelines of the ITB trade fair.

“As leader of our country, the President needs to be aware that there is collateral damage,” he said.

The U.S. dollar has gained more than 5 percent against the euro over the past six months, making it more expensive for travellers to visit the United States.

New York City was expecting foreign tourist numbers to remain unchanged at 12.7 million but has cut its forecast for 2017 by 300,000.

“It’s too soon to tell exactly what’s going to happen,” Britt Hijkoop, a senior manager at NYC & Company, told Reuters, adding that New York hoped to be proactive with its advertising. The city has spent $3 million on a marketing campaign with the slogan “Welcoming the World”.

Las Vegas, another major tourist destination, hopes business with trade conventions and a wide price range for accommodation will keep growth robust, said Heidi Hayes, Director of Communications for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Las Vegas had a record 42.9 million visitors last year, with about 7 million from outside the United States, and forecasts an increase to 43.2 million this year.

But a survey by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) indicated business travel, an important source of income for hotels and airlines, could suffer due to the ban.

Some 37 percent of U.S. business travel professionals said they expect a reduction in their company’s travel because of Trump’s revised executive order, while 17 percent of European travel professionals said their company has already cancelled business travel to the United States.

Dubai-based Emirates airline [EMIRA.UL] said at the fair its booking rate for flights to and from the United States took a 35 percent hit overnight after the first travel ban and had not yet recovered.

Other aviation executives including Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines AAL.O, the world's largest carrier by passenger numbers, have said recently they have not yet seen any discernible effects of the executive order.

United Continental Holdings UAL.N CEO Oscar Munoz last week expressed concern, however, at a Washington aviation summit.

“There is certainly a lot of clamour and certainly a lot of concern,” he said.

Additional reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by Julia Glover and Toby Davis