PHOTO: New York City's Times Square. (photo via Flickr/Shinya Suzuki)
Read the headlines, and you're sure to catch a case of doom-and-gloom. Dig into the numbers, however, and things get gray.
Today's uncertain political climate and recent foreign policy controversies appear to be dissuading Americans from traveling to certain destinations while turning some international travelers off to the U.S., according to a recent flash poll from international travel agency network Virtuoso.
While currently blocked by the federal court system, President Donald Trump's executive order banning foreign nationals of six Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. has undoubtedly contributed to those concerns.
A recent survey conducted by tourism marketing agency Brand USA of travelers from 11 countries shows that more international travelers now say they are less likely to visit the U.S. in the next 12 months due to the changing political climate compared to late last year, according to the Associated Press.
China was the only country polled where hesitancy didn't increase from December 2016 to February 2017, while travelers from Mexico registered the most concern of any country. Travelers from Canada, Germany, Australia, the U.K. and France indicated moderate sensitivity over political sentiment. Meanwhile, travelers from India, Japan, Brazil and South Korea showed the least sensitivity.
Trump's initial executive order was issued Jan. 27 and was later blocked. His revised order was signed March 6 and was also blocked by a federal judge.
But there are other factors and stats to consider here as well.
Despite the recent confusion and uneasiness, international arrivals to the U.S. experienced a rare decline last year prior to Trump taking office and well before his November election victory. According to revised arrivals data recently released by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), international arrivals to the U.S. dropped 4 percent between April and August of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
The second quarter 2016 downturn was the first in nearly seven years but can't necessarily be pinned on political anxiety with the strength of the U.S. dollar likely to blame for keeping many visitors at bay.
Plus, the NTTO announced last week that international visitors spent a record $20.8 billion on travel to the U.S., as well as tourism-related activities within the country this past January, a one percent increase over January 2016.
Although sentiment has certainly shifted since then based on recent polls, Brand USA economist Carroll Rheem points out that sentiment doesn't always determine booking behavior.
"There's a good group of these people who have concerns who have a wait-and-see approach," she told the AP. "And there are others who are somewhat impacted or slightly negative but at the same time will end up booking. It's not a complete deterrent, but it's a bit of a concern."
READ MORE: Virtuoso Poll Shows Choice Destinations Are Rapidly Changing
According to Rheem, preliminary data on flight bookings to the U.S. for this year point to continued growth.
"They've said things are stable if not growing," she told the AP. "So some of the headlines out there about dramatic downward shifts or challenges in bookings are not really consistent with what we've been seeing in that data."
If there's another silver lining, it's that most of Virtuoso's travel advisors anticipate any slowdown in travel to the U.S. will last just three to six months, according to the poll. So far, travel agents have reported mixed reactions to the uncertain political climate. but while challenges are unavoidable, they often lead to new opportunities.
And even if the destination changes, it doesn't mean travel stops.