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January 31, 2017

What Trump’s Immigration Ban Means for the Meetings and Events Industry

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In the wake of Friday’s executive order by U.S. President Donald Trump barring travelers from seven countries from entering the United States, questions remain on what the new policy means for international attendees headed to U.S. meetings. 

The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) has issued a statement expressing concern over the new policy’s effect on the meetings and events industry. 

“The global exhibitions industry contributes more than $200 billion to world economies, with roughly $77 billion contributed to the U.S. GDP annually,” said Ryan Strowger, CEM, chair of IAEE and SVP of exhibitions, conferences and sales with the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). “Furthermore, more than 42 million visitors attend 9,400+ business-to-business exhibitions and events in the U.S. alone and IAEE members and stakeholders are rightfully concerned about the long-term ramifications of restrictions placed on global travelers coming to the U.S.”

In a written statement the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that, as a matter of principle, the organization works for the free movement of trade and people across borders. 

“IATA also recognizes that states have the right and duty to protect their citizens by enforcing their borders,” the organization said. “Where this has implications for air travel, we work with our member airlines to help them comply with these requirements efficiently and effectively. Global systems and procedures exist to support this activity.”

At the same time, the IATA pointed out that this system relies on clear directives from and advance coordination with governments — something that the IATA argued was not present with this policy. 

“Entry requirements for the United States were changed significantly and immediately by an Executive Order (EO),” the IATA said. “The EO was issued without prior coordination or warning, causing confusion among both airlines and travelers. It also placed additional burdens on airlines to comply with unclear requirements, to bear implementation costs and to face potential penalties for non-compliance.”

The IATA urged the U.S. administration to provide early clarity on future policies, as well as advance coordination regarding changes in entry requirements. 

David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), was critical of the policy in a written statement provided to International Meetings Review, saying that the order "goes directly against the fundamental right of Freedom to Travel. It has created immense confusion among travelers and travel companies worldwide.”

The WTTC argued that all people have the right to cross international borders safely and efficiently for business and tourism purposes, and that suspending travel based only on a person’s nationality or origin is wrong. The WTTC also criticized the implementation of the ban, saying that a lack of prior consultation and communication with airlines and border officials led to unnecessary travel disruptions. 

“If this move by the Trump Administration is designed to ‘prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals’, it is important to point out that the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the recent past have been perpetrated by home grown, radicalized nationals of the country involved,” said Scowsill. “None of the shocking domestic incidents in the U.S. since 2001 have been attributed to external terrorists who have specifically flown into the country to commit an atrocity. Preventing ‘aliens’ from entering the U.S. for legitimate business or leisure purposes is misguided and counter-productive for the American economy.”

In an interview with The Hill, the Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, said that, while the initial impact of the policy could be limited, the long-term message could have a negative impact. 

“In this case, it’s a limited universe of people directly affected, but carries with it not inconsequential fall-out potential when it comes to reputational risk and sending an unintended message,” Grella told The Hill, noting that the seven countries affected by the ban are not in the top 20 travel markets to the United States. “People will be understanding and forgiving when security is your motivation, but if they are left with other takeaways that leave the impression that they’re not welcome here, than that’s obviously a different story.”

Reuters reports that several countries and tourism organizations in Asia are already seeking to draw in tourists who may be turned off by the new policy. “With the world now getting more isolationist it's time for ASEAN to start making it easier for tourists to come,” Tony Fernandes, AirAsia CEO, said in a tweet. 

"The Middle East is a big market for us, especially in the medical tourism sector. They may choose to visit Thailand more and this may also boost our sector," Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.

Travel + Leisure has published a list of tips on what travelers should expect in the wake of the new policy. These include allowing for more time at the airport due to potential delays caused by heightened security or disruptions in service, double-checking any necessary travel documents, and being aware of the views on the ban in the country to which a traveler is headed. 

The executive order issued Friday put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees to enter the United States, as well as an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order stranded travelers around the world over the weekend including, initially, those with green cards granting them permanent residence in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) later issued an order exempting legal residents from the ban. Multiple courts have intervened to block portions of President Trump’s executive order, and a series of lawsuits remains pending. 

Have a tip on major meetings and events industry news, or an inspiring story you’d like to share? Reach out at [email protected]

And keep visiting www.internationalmeetingsreview.com for the latest meetings and events industry news, trends and updates. 

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