The many reasons to be optimistic for Florida's tourism industry in Trump's America
Following Donald Trump's election as new President of the United States on Wednesday November 9, 2016, a high level of uncertainty has taken hold in the minds of travel professionals, many of whom fear a negative impact on the nation's and Florida's flourishing tourism industry.
This led some to wonder if President Donald Trump was indeed bad news for Florida's tourism. Not to predict that Hillary Clinton would necessarily have done a better job if she'd won that historic race, but many experts did assume that it would be much more of a status quo for the tourism business as opposed to the many interrogations following Trump's victory.
This questioning is mostly centered around foreign visitation, especially in the light of Trump's essentially American-centric program, including a hardliner stance on specific countries, ethinic groups and religions, as well as new rules that would make it harder to travel in and out of the country.
But should Florida really fear for its tourism in Trump's America? This could actually turn out to be the exact opposite. We've found many reasons why Mr. Trump accession to the White House might actually be very good news for Florida. Read on to find out why.
THE U.S. TOURISM INDUSTRY IS DOING GREAT, THANKS FOR ASKING
The US tourism industry is alive and well, and is actually in better shape than ever.
Despite terrorism, natural catastrophes, disputed foreign policy, somewhat less than popular U.S. engagement in international conflicts, mass shootings and other tragic events, the past 15 years haven't deterred the rest of the world to keep visiting the self-appointed greatest country on Earth. Far from it.
Thanks in no small part to the seemingly endless power of attraction of the country, from Hollywood blockbusters to entertainment and social media stars, tourism is on the rise for the 8th straight year, with a record total contribution of $1.54 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2016.
A number that could keep growing up to $2.65 trillion in 2026, according to statistic portal Statista.
What's more, the number of inbound international visitors to the United States has nearly doubled between from 2003 to 2016, jumping from 41.2 million foreign visitors to 77.3 million.
As a result, travel and tourism directly contributed approximately 5.3 million jobs to the U.S. economy 2014, about 1 out of 9 U.S. jobs depending on travel and tourism according to US Travel.
All things considered, the U.S. tourism industry in on a steamroll, and whatever adverse effect may come out of Donald Trump presidency - if any - should be well offset by the strong efforts of recent initiatives to promote USA like never before.
BrandUSA is leading the pack with a 2010 joint effort between the government and 600 major industry players in the form of a public-private partnership to market America as a premier destination for travelers, aiming to attract 100 million international tourists and $250 billion of their cash annually by 2021.
“International tourism is the number one services export that we have," Anne Madison of Brand USA told The Atlantic, "and yet, until this campaign, we were the only developed country that lacked a national tourism campaign.”
It remains to be seen if this type of promotion will be enough to counter potential anti-Trump trend amongst foreign visitors, but since objectives are very high, the worse one may expect is a slower growth, rather than an actual downturn.
DOMESTIC TOURISM IS ULTRA DOMINANT IN the U.S. TRAVEL INDUSTRY
No matter what happens to international inbound tourism in the U.S. once Mr. Trump takes office, it may not actually be much of an issue. The reason is simple: the U.S. tourism market is overwhelmingly domestic.
In fact, the domination of domestic tourism is total, representing as much as 96.7% of the total trips in 2013, though down to 86% according to Visit Florida, thanks to the relative increase of international inbound travelers. 86% is still an impressive proportion reflecting the ultra dominance of domestic tourism compared to foreign tourism.
The total number of domestic trips reached 2.1 billion in 2013, and is expected to rise to 2.2 billion in 2018.
79% of those domestic trips (1.7 billion person‑trips) are for leisure purposes, according to the Domestic Travel Market Report 2015 of the U.S Travel Association, another number on the rise from 72% in 2014.
When taking a close look at how domestic tourists spend their time and money, there are many valid reasons to think that the current global economic and cultural trends could only reinforce these spending habits.
For instance, the average total trip spending is on the rise ($656 in 2014 vs $623 in 2009) for domestic travelers. Another factor is that 25% of them do spend some time shopping at their destination, a top activity for U.S. tourists.
Fuel prices remain at a low level, contributing to declining domestic airline fares, which in turn gives more incentive to people booking short trips across the country.
Things are also looking up for road trips, the #1 way of domestic traveling for Americans, with the development of car sharing, notwithstanding the $1 trillion dollar plan to improve infrastructure being part of the President-elect's first 100 days priorities.
And even though - for obvious reasons, starting with travel cost - foreign visitors do spend up to four times more that domestic ones, the most cataclysmic prediction of a potential Trumpageddon costing $71 billion loss in inbound international tourism (because of Trump's new policies) would still be somewhat of a drop in the ocean (-5%) of the $1.4 trillion U.S. tourism industry.
FLORIDA'S TOURISM IS AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH
Numbers usually don't lie, and those of Visit Florida - the official tourism promotion arm for the Sunshine State - show that tourism in Florida been breaking all records for the past five years.
Whether you look at them in terms of total visits, hotel bookings, tourism spending or tourism-related employment, all statistics have been steadily on the rise for quite a few years now, sometimes quite spectacularly with for instance a +31.3% increase for total tourism spending revenues.
FLORIDA'S VISITATION: +21% IN 5 YEARS
FLORIDA'S ROOM REVENUES: +18.5% IN 2 YEARS
FLORIDA'S TOURISM JOBS: +16.9% IN 5 YEARS
FLORIDA'S TOURISM SPENDINGS: +31.3% IN 5 YEARS
In fact, the only numbers that are somewhat down (barely), are the ones of total budget for private investments, from $138.5 million in 2015 to $133.2 million in 2016, while public investment remain stable ($74 millions). A number which can be mitigated in many ways, since the trend has been upward for 4 straight years with public investment nearly doubling since 2011.
These days, Florida's tourism industry is the number one contributing sector (nearly 25%) to the State's economy, with $89.1 billion tourism and recreation-related taxable sales ($5.3 billion in taxes), a +37% increase in the last ten years.
Florida is all about perfect weather, beautiful beaches, amazing natural wonders, fantastic food, and a whole lot of other great attractions for tourists. No matter what happens in D.C., the Florida Keys will always be the Keys, and The Everglades' gators are going nowhere in the foreseeable future.
Trump or not Trump, nothing will change on that side, so chances are visitors - foreign or domestic - won't really care as long as Disneyworld's Cinderella Castle is still standing, and the sun keeps shining.
FLORIDA CITIES ARE SHATTERING TOURISM RECORDS AS WELL
By itself, Southeast Florida's tourism industry weighs no less than $43 billion annually, roughly half of the entire state's travel-related revenues.
Miami takes no small part in this success, with a record 15.1 million annual overnight visitors for Miami-Dade last year (August '14 to August '15), up 5.4% from the year before, generating $25.1 billion revenues (+7%).
J.D. Power's Destination Experience Satisfaction Study produced other statistics showing more impressive growth numbers: +5.5% for airport arrivals, and record-breaking 13.2 million nights (+3% for room nights; +7% for room revenues).
Most of these (75%) come from repeat visitors, highlighting Miami as a recurrent leisure destination, including for foreign visitors which logically acount for about half of the contingent of room bookings. Not only that, but Miami is among the cities where people love to spend the most.
When you look towards Orlando, things are looking up as well. In fact, Orlando and Miami trust the top two spots in J.D. Power's study for U.S. South Region cities that rank the highest in terms of customer satisfaction.
Florida's main touristic cities are bent on resting on their laurels either, as they are constantly investing to keep visitors coming back and again, year after year.
The Downtown new Metrorail Orange Line, the much anticipated Miami Beach Convention Center, Miami is striving to becoming a top worldwide tourist destination.
Not to be outdone, Orlando is counting on its new Brightline service connection, and a host of new exciting attractions have been announced in the nearby amusement parks such as Pandora - Avatar in Disney World, Star Wars and Toy Story in Disney's Hollywood Studios, or Universal Studios' new 3D rides and first on-site water park.
against all odds, Florida's tourism will resist just about anything
There have been very few years in Florida's recent history that have yielded so manic tragic events in so little time.
From Orlando's nightclub horrific shooting spree (49 fatalities) to the heartbreaking slaying of small boy by an alligator at Disney World, the alarming spread of Zika virus, or even the fatal shooting of singer Christina Grimmie, the past two years have brought about their share of negative news which could have seriously impacted many a touristic region.
Expectedly, many experts were quick to warn that 2016 would not be as fruitful as 2015, an historic year for tourism in central Florida. Ray Bromley from the State University of New York even forecasted that Orlando tourism would take a hit of 5% to 15% in 2016/2017.
But so far none of these predictions prove true. As far as Orlando is concerned, “Not one person has said, ‘Put the trip off’," said for instance travel agent Cindy Minor. Visit Orlando's CEO George Aguel added that the city has “not seen indications of change to our visitors’ plans,” following the aforementioned tragic events. As a matter of fact, airfares haven't moved a bit after Orlando's nightclub shootings: “We are not seeing any fire sales to Orlando," said AirfareWatchdog founder George Hobica in the Detroit Free Press.
All told, as of September 2016, the only tourism stat on the down for Orlando was the hotel occupancy rate (76.4% vs. 77.8%) but increasing average room rates (from $111.35 to $115.98) over the same period may account for it, and certainly compensated any potential loss.
Same goes for Miami. Despite an undisputable rise of travel-related Zika cases (252 in Miami-Dade alone) and repeated worrying reports from state health officials, tourism in the Magic City has never so strong, even breaking visitor records despite ‘the Z-word,’ as noted by the Miami Herald.
“We managed to keep Zika’s impact on tourism from spiraling out of control,” said Miami-Dade County's Mayor Carlos Gimenez, “we are back in full swing.”
Such a resilience to tragedy is a sure sign that Florida's tourism is relying on basic strengths that are little - if not at all - affected by adverse conditions. Even Hurrican Andrew - who devastated Haiti and the Caribbean on its way to the Southeastern U.S. region - seemed to get the point, and mostly spare Florida of its mighty wrath.
Trump's DOLLAR policies may just be what U.S. tourism needs
Although many a middleclass household may not have gotten the best of it, it's not that easy to dismiss the fact that the U.S. economy has mostly benefited from the Obama's 8-year stay at the White House.
Regardless of how anyone might feel about it, whatever adverse effect low growth rate and national debt increase may have produced, the benefits of cutting the unemployment rate and federal budget deficit have largely compensated them.
If the health of the stock market is a clue to how well the U.S. economy is doing, under Obama stock prices have been rising by... 100 percent.
The one clearly negative effect of this somewhat of a success, is that the U.S. dollar has mightily recovered against foreign currencies, reaching unseen levels for over a decade. While this actually works out for anyone buying foreign goods from the U.S., it is terrible news for U.S. tourism as a whole.
“When the dollar gets stronger, it is more expensive for Latin Americans to travel here,” confirmed Francisco Levine, CEO of Chilean hospitality company Atton Hotels, to the Miami Herald.
That is also true for just about any foreign visitors. "A strong dollar whacks the U.S. tour industry in two phases", explains MarketPlace, "First, people who are already here tighten up (...), and the worry in the tourism industry is that a persistently strong dollar will bring about the more devastating second phase of impact, when exchange rates prevent people from choosing America as a destination in the first place."
All this worrying might leave you wonder how in the world this might be good news for Florida's tourism? Like the strong dollar problem, the answer is two-fold.
First, the strong dollar is nothing new in this century, so if it could actually whack" the U.S. tourism industry, it would already have done so.
Second, President Trump will have none of it. In fact, the President-elect voiced a very clear position against "the strong dollar". And while Deutsche Bank AG Macro Strategist Alan Ruskin expressed concerns that "it is possible that a strong USD will be worn by the coming administration as a badge of honor", Trump's own declarations tend to prove the opposite.
"I obviously like a strong dollar," Mr. Trump said, "but when you look at the havoc that a strong dollar causes (...), while there are certain benefits, it sounds better to have a strong dollar than in actuality it is”.
As Bloomberg correctly pointed out, Donald's Dreams and a Strong Dollar Don't Mix. In this instance, if the new President puts his money where his mouth is, he will act to put a damper on the dollar's love of heights, even though the U.S. Dollar Index already went up more than 2 points since the election!
Nevertheless, if all goes to plan, a weaker dollar shouldn't change anything for domestic travel while at the same time create a great incentive for foreign travelers, maybe even to the point where it could offset any negative feeling other countries may feel about the Trump's presidency.
Forget about Trumpaggedon, all hail Trumpalooza
At the recent World Travel Market (WTM) London that was to end on November 9, CNN staged a mock election to which some 550 VIPs were invited to participate. The results? Hillary Clinton won 94%, Donald Trump just 6%. It's safe to say that most of the travel industry was expecting the election to go the other way.
Nonetheless, just because the majority made their Trumpophobia loud and clear, that does not mean that they're right. Past the emotional initial response, quite a few voices are making themselves heard to alleviate fears of a Trumpageddon devastating for the U.S. tourism industry.
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow is also very confident that "Mr. Trump’s extensive business and hospitality background — not to mention that travel accounts for 10 percent of all U.S. exports and creates jobs in every single congressional district — will make him a ready and receptive ear for (USA Travel's) agenda."
Even in such countries as France, which have been targeted with a potential visa rules hardening by Mr. Trump because of recent terrorist events, not everyone seemed ready to panic just yet according to French travel website Quotidien du Tourisme.
"I am intimately convinced that Trump as President will be very different from Trump as a candidate," said Laurent Magnin, CEO of XL Airways, an airline company doing mostly business with the U.S., "Trump or no Trump, America will remain a not-to-be-missed destination," he said.
Fabrice Dariot, CEO of Bourse des Vols, a major french air travel website, even goes so far as thinking that the extra publicity generated by Mr. Trump's surprise victory, "can only favor American tourism by putting the spotlight on the country," he said. "Pictures of the USA do help sales, that's basic advertising, therefore I rather expect an increased number of tourists (to the U.S.)," he said.
Even the Trump hotels and leisure empire could greatly benefit from being "the President's Hotels," customer loyalty research agency Brand Keys told the New York Times, adding that "(The Trump) brand that was once deemed toxic by many consumers is now seen as not only a safe option, but an emotionally desirable option."
This could all add up to an even brighter outlook for Florida. Back in april, Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe told Tampa Bay Times that if Trump were elected, there would be absolutely no change in the way Florida is promoted as a destination to other countries. "Last year we had visitors come to Florida from 190 different countries, and we expect that to keep growing," he said. "I think that will carry forward regardless of the election, and we predict that 2017 will be another banner year for us."
Enthused by the changes ahead, Mr. Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group even conjectures that Trump "could be one of the most travel-friendly presidents in modern history," no less!
Those views express a growing opinion that the new administration may very positively impact USA's and Florida's tourism industries.
Donald Trump is no JFK in terms of popularity abroad, but despite campaign pledges that may hurt the U.S. tourism industry in terms of inbound travel, this instinctive setback may very well be ultimately at the very least compensated by other, more decisive factors.