Earth & Conservation

Flight Searches to the U.S. Have Plunged Since Trump's Travel Ban

Data analysis shows that flight searches from foreign countries to the U.S. have recently fallen in 94 out of 122 countries, reflecting a sudden wariness of visiting America — but searches from Russia are way up.

Before it was blocked last week by a federal judge, President Donald Trump's imposition of a travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries directly affected thousands of visa holders and previously approved refugees who were headed to the U.S., leaving them in international limbo. Now secondary effects from the ban are beginning to surface.

Research released on Tuesday by Hopper, a mobile app that processes airline price data to analyze and predict airfares, found that flight searches to the U.S. from foreign countries has dropped 17 percent since Trump's inauguration and his speedy implementation of the travel ban, compared to the final days of the Obama administration. This steep downturn is highly unusual.

"The executive order had a pretty big negative effect on people searching for flights from outside the U.S. into the U.S.," Patrick Surry, Hopper's chief data scientist, told Seeker. "There's always some normal variation you expect in flight searches each year, but it drifted out of that range just before the ban was announced and then it bottomed out on the Saturday after it was actually implemented."

To put the decline into perspective, it's a big jump from the 1.8 percent decrease that occurred last year, indicating that this is not merely a seasonal change.

Though Hopper's research showed that flight search has fallen by 33 percent in countries that were affected by the travel ban, these nations are not the only ones having a change of heart about visiting the U.S.

"Search decreased a lot as people were told they weren't going to be allowed to travel," Surry said of the seven countries subject to the ban. "But we were also interested to see how it would impact search from many other countries that were not involved in the initial restrictions that were announced."

Flight searches to the U.S. are down in 94 of the 122 countries included in the data. These nations include Denmark and New Zealand, where searches have fallen by 31 percent, and Australia, where they have dropped by 25 percent.

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"The secondary effect of these restrictions is that people feel less welcome in the U.S. and are either canceling or changing their U.S. travel plans," Surry explained. "This could have a big impact on the travel and tourism industry in the U.S. It could be that the reverse is also true - that people in the U.S. become less willing to travel internationally."

One notable exception to the list of countries that saw a decrease in flight searches to the U.S. is Russia, where searches have increased a whopping 88 percent since Trump's inauguration and subsequent travel ban. During his campaign for office, Trump repeatedly professed his admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin and spoke of improving ties between the two countries, whose relations soured after Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

"The broad conclusion that you can draw from the appearance of Russia at the top is the impact on perception of travel into the U.S.," Surry explained. "There's a perception that the U.S. is closing its doors and is unwelcoming to visitors. With Russia in particular, it's anecdotally the other way. The popular perception in Russia is that Trump is going to be much friendlier to them and the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is going to improve. It may be that people [in Russia] who are feeling it's a good time to come and visit are exploring those options."

Surry noted that this data is also unique because Hopper has never seen flight searches to the U.S. decrease so dramatically before.

"The one striking thing for us is that almost every travel event we've looked at with this kind of analysis, the short-term effect is an increase in search, even if it's a negative event," he said. "People are trying to plan or change or investigate their travel options. This is probably the first time we've seen such a big negative impact."

As the saga of Trump's travel ban unfolds, Hopper plans to continue analyzing flight search data to the U.S. from foreign countries and sharing their findings with the public.

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