Just the threat of Trump's travel ban is having this chilling effect

Syrian refugees
Louisa Gouliamaki | AFP | Getty Images
Syrian refugees

President Trump's relentless message about creating new jobs in the U.S. is at odds with the message that is coming from his proposed travel ban and related comments about Mexico, China and other countries. The message foreign travelers are hearing is that the U.S. isn't anxious to welcome visitors to our country.

The seven-nation travel ban announced in January has been blocked by the Federal Courts, most recently on Thursday by the Fourth Circuit, but it has already had an impact on destination tourism travel to the U.S.

These actions have set in motion consequences that could affect our country for years to come.

International travel to the U.S. creates and supports a large number of jobs in the travel industry. Since the January White House travel ban announcement, international tourism to the United States has seen a substantial decline. The result of that is jeopardizing the jobs and economic growth that comes from the U.S. travel industry.

Clearly, in this new age of terrorist threats, we need to carefully vet international arrivals to the U.S. That makes sense. Our safety and security depend on it.

But at the same time there are powerful reasons we should be encouraging travel to the United States by citizens of other countries who want to see America. The opportunity for others to learn about our people and our country is another important way to make us more secure.

In addition to the proposed travel ban, the actions taken against some international travelers in recent months have sent the same negative message about travel to the U.S.

For example, on February 26th, French historian Henry Rousso, who had travelled to our country more than thirty times, was landing in Houston to speak at a Texas A&M Conference.

"Estimated spending by international travelers to the United States is $246 billion a year. Travel and tourism supports 8.1 million American jobs with a significant portion of that coming from international travelers who spend an estimated $4,400 per person during their U.S. trips."

As he was going through the immigration screening process at the airport that afternoon, he was pulled aside, put in a small adjoining room and spent the next ten hours being questioned by U.S. immigration officials and was threatened with deportation. At 1:00 a.m., ten hours after his plane landed in Houston, he was released.

Henry Rousso said he is unsure whether he will ever again return to the United States.

This is just one story about one international traveler to the United States. There are many, many other similar stories. Does it really matter?

It matters more than we know.

International travel and tourism to the United States is a powerful job generator for our economy. Estimated spending by international travelers to the United States is $246 billion a year. Travel and tourism supports 8.1 million American jobs with a significant portion of that coming from international travelers who spend an estimated $4,400 per person during their U.S. trips.

We have some unfortunate experience with periods where the U.S. stopped welcoming international tourism.

The decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks is commonly referred to as the "lost decade" for the U.S. travel industry. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the message from the U.S. to the rest of the world was that we weren't anxious to have visitors from abroad.

As a result, international travel to the U.S. collapsed along with the jobs and economic opportunities.

It took well over a decade for the U. S. to return to pre 9/11 numbers in international visitors. The U.S. tourism and travel industry and the Americans who worked in those jobs paid a high price for that.

In 2009, I wrote legislation to try to change it. S. 1063, The Travel Promotion Act, was a bipartisan bill creating a public/private partnership to promote the United States as a welcoming market for destination tourism.

Thanks to the work of Democratic Leader Harry Reid and others, the Travel Promotion Act was added to another must-pass bill and was signed into law in March of 2010. The impact of that effort has been an impressive turnaround for our travel and tourism economy.

Fast-forward to 2017 and once again the message to the rest of the world coming from the proposed travel ban was that the U.S. is wary about foreign tourists. It is exactly the wrong message for our country to be sending.

The value of destination tourism to the U.S. is not just about economic growth and jobs, although it is very big boost to our economy. It is also an opportunity to show other citizens of the world the wonder of this great country. There are so many reasons to be proud of the United States and the people who live here.

Who we are, where we've been, and what we have done for the rest of the world comes from our values and our commitment to democracy, freedom, and justice. I want everyone in the world to experience America through the opportunity and the experience of international travel.

So, let's do better. Good security, yes. But couple that with a welcome sign telling the world how proud we are of our great nation and inviting them to come and visit.

Commentary by former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, Democrat, North Dakota. He is a senior policy advisor at law firm Arent Fox.

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