Too much, too late: that sums up President Trump’s unprecedented ban on Europeans visiting the US.
As tourists and business travellers with transatlantic bookings are turned away from airports, the coronavirus journey has taken another alarming swerve into uncharted territory.
Banning French and German visitors will have little effect on flattening the curve of infection in America. But it will traumatise the travel industry and cause lasting damage to the reputation of the US as a welcoming destination.
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In the short term, the travel plans of millions of people have been torn up – with airlines, hotels and travel insurers squabbling over who takes the biggest hits of a billion-dollar decision.
Transatlantic airlines are now facing a cataclysmic fall in bookings: while British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are continuing to fly, plenty of their business involves taking Continental Europeans via London Heathrow to the US.
American destinations heavily dependent on international tourism, including New York City, Florida and California, will see a slump in visitor numbers that will hit every business, from Main Street diners to giant theme parks.
Forward bookings for the summer are likely to cease – not just from Continental Europe but also from other nations, whose prospective holidaymakers will not take the risk of falling foul of a new and arbitrary travel ban.
When the mist of coronavirus fears finally clears, the US will face an uphill battle to re-energise international tourism. Taking visitors for granted and then excluding them on a presidential whim is not a strategy for long-term success.
The US move will also damage the flagging tourism fortunes on this side of the Atlantic. Trump’s ban sent a message to Americans that Europe is unsafe.
Added to Israel’s decision to close its airports and borders to foreigners, and Vietnam introducing impossibly draconian visa rules, who would book a trip abroad with confidence?
Until 2020, the main battle in tourism was between nations seeking to grab a larger slice of the ever-expanding travel cake. That cake is shrinking rapidly.
From now on, the bigger struggle will be to convince the newly wary to venture from their homes at all.
Travel, the industry of human happiness, has never felt so miserable.
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