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Monday, August 06, 2018

Trump And The American Tourist Industry-- A Match Made In Hell

Tourism is up all over the world-- up 8% to quantify it. But not in Trumpland. My pal Roland and I travel a lot and he wants to go to exciting, adventurous places, and that often happens to mean places with unstable and even fascist governments. He's always trying to drag me back to Israel, Egypt and Turkey, places we've enjoyed but that I don't want to go to until their political situations are in better shape. He just went to Hungary and Poland without me because I want to avoid countries with fascist governments. Looking at the growth rates of tourism this year, it appears that I'm not alone. Whilethe setoff the world's tourism has been growing-- Britain's by 17.9% for example, and Canada's by 21.2%, both the U.S. under Trump and Turkey under Erdoğan, have seen tourism drop off, Turkey by 6.7% and the U.S. by 6%. Writing yesterday for the Daily Beast, Elizabeth Drew noted that once Trump was inserted into the White House tourism to the United States from foreign countries has steadily dropped.

The U.S. Travel Association has just provided her with figures "projecting a further drop in 2018 from a share of worldwide tourism of 12.0 percent in 2017 to 11.7 percent this year. And this is after a drop in Trump’s first year in office from 12.9 percent. Though the numbers and differentials look small in percentages, they are large in terms of dollars not spent here by foreign tourists and they have serious negative implications for jobs not created... Trump’s rhetoric and new policies and rules and regulations regarding travel have combined to blot America’s long-standing image as a welcoming nation."
[Trump's] travel ban, a barely disguised version of the total ban on Muslims being allowed into this country he announced during his presidential campaign, inflamed worldwide opinion and in practical terms it barred visits by citizens of seven entire countries in the name of preventing terrorist attacks (though none have come from the countries the ban singled out).

The administration’s treatment of people attempting to flee here from violence-wracked Central American countries and Trump’s rhetoric about Mexico from the moment he entered the presidential race hasn’t encouraged Hispanics to come see our wondrous sights and enjoy our beautiful beaches. Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord hasn’t helped, nor have his rows with the leaders of friendly nations, which began almost from when he took office.  Neither has Trump’s launching of a trade war. New visa-vetting policies have also caused delays and denials that didn’t used to occur. The invasive new tightening of airport security has put off numerous travelers to this country.

Maybe all these changes have prevented would-be terrorists from entering the U.S., but they for sure have also discouraged or denied many visitors with benign intentions.

The drop in tourism in 2017 was precipitous, and its velocity can be mainly attributed to one factor, what’s come to be called in the tourism industry the Trump slump. Earlier this year, Reuters quoted the head of a German company that specializes in trips to the United States as saying, “Politics is not helping us.”  He added that since the price of the dollar was falling at that time, “we should have seen a much bigger increase in demand.” The Pew Research Center Reserve found earlier this year that a survey of ten nations showed that a favorable opinion of the US occurred in only one country: Russia. The inescapable fact is that Trump’s presidency has coincided with an unprecedented drop in travel to the United States. The US’s share in worldwide travel increased steadily until 2015. While some attribute the recent drop in tourism to the U.S. to a strong dollar, in fact, the dollar was strong in 2015, when our tourism growth was at its apex, and it was strong in 2016. Yet when it declined in 2017, which should have helped tourism, foreign tourism to the U.S. dropped steeply that year. (After starting off weak earlier this year, the dollar’s been gaining in strength robustly, and the recent tightening of credit by the Federal Reserve will likely send the dollar even higher-- which isn’t good for U.S. exports, which includes tourism.)
These are the growth rates she got from the U.S. Travel Association:
Spain +32.7%
Australia +22%
Canada +21.2%
Saudi Arabia +20.3%
U.K. +17.9%
UAE +16.5%
Thailand +13.9%
China +9.3%
Germany +8%
France +4%
Italy +2.2%
U.S. -6%
Turkey -6.7%
I wish they had included Egypt and Israel. I bet the tourism rates in Syria are way down. I wonder if it's picking up in Iraq and Afghanistan. I doubt it. The most popular U.S. travel destinations-- so the ones being hurt the most by Trump's policies in this area are New York City, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Orlando, Chicago, California (San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Napa), Key West, New Orleans, Washington, DC, Arizona (Sedona and the Grand Canyon), Charleston, SC, Savannah, GA, Branson, MO, Nashville, Jackson, WY, Moab, UT, Asheville, NC, Maine, Boston, and Aspen.
Our pathetic drop in tourism at the same time that it’s growing almost everywhere else in the developed world has had a striking negative impact on our economy. The USTA (which is more careful about tourism statistics than the Commerce Department) estimates that if this country had merely maintained its share of the travel market it had in 2015 it would have received 7.4 million more visitors from abroad and $32.2 billion more in spending by tourists, which would have created 100,000 more jobs. After all, since tourism is counted as an export, for a president who rants about imbalance of trade numbers and has promised to bring more jobs to the United States, his record in attracting foreign tourists—if he’s aware of it; and if he is, if he cares about it—isn’t impressive. (Just about no respectable economist expects the excellent 4.1 percent economic growth in the second quarter, often the best quarter of a year, to last very long.)

To add to this inauspicious picture of our standing in the world, fewer foreign students have been applying for graduate degrees in what have long been considered our world-class universities. As has long been well understood, the education here of foreign students helps us as well as the countries of origin, by leading to scientific discoveries that might otherwise not have been made, by spreading the idea of America and of democracy, and by raising the education level of countries we hope won’t succumb to malign forces. We can help groom future foreign leaders.)  In the academic year 2017-2018, there occurred the first drop in enrollment by foreign students in the U.S. in ten years, by 4 percent, or roughly 32,000 fewer of them. The Trump administration has taken some actions that make it more difficult for foreign students to remain here if they drop some classes, transfer schools, or accidentally overstay their visas; and it’s considering such proposals as forcing students to have to reapply for a visa each year rather than just once, at the time of their enrollment.

What does all this say about the United States? Among other things it says that a great many others do not separate our country from our president, however unpopular he may be. The cartoonish balloon of Trump in a diaper that floated over the Parliament building in London during his visit to Great Britain in July was an insult not just to Trump but to the United States. It turns out that our having elected someone whose campaign and presidential rhetoric has at the least been unfriendly to other countries-- that is, other than Russia and North Korea—turns out to have been quite expensive financially and culturally. Trump’s “America first” talk has in more ways than we may have realized limited our potential as an influential nation, not to mention as a world leader. It’s to be remembered that the abysmal drops in both foreign tourists and students all occurred before the president further isolated us by his tariffs and his increased belligerence toward countries that have been our traditional allies, not to mention his groveling to Vladimir Putin before the entire world. It doesn’t require leaps of imagination to understand why visits to the U.S. from the Middle East and Mexico dropped last year. Some Canadian columnists have urged citizens of their country to stop vacationing in the United States—in retaliation for Trump’s new tariffs and his rudeness to their leader Justin Trudeau and as a moral position against his thinly cloaked Muslim ban. As it happens, the number of people seeking asylum in Canada from below its southern border, has increased dramatically of late.

Unfortunately, at the rate our president is going, his policies and his becoming increasingly lathered up as some of his past political and personal activities are catching up with him, we probably have nowhere to go but down in important and potentially lucrative international travel. The boom in international tourism is continuing, but we’re not benefiting from it-- and it’s not to be expected that in the foreseeable future we’ll see a great many tourists from the president’s best foreign friends, North Koreans or Russians, shopping along Fifth Avenue or hiking in the Grand Tetons. Like it or not, Trump’s face to the world is our face and his voice is ours. The costly-- in several ways-- drop in tourism and the decrease in curious foreign minds at our universities are not to be taken lightly, though they’re being ignored by the Trump administration.
If you have traveled to Europe-- or almost anywhere in the world these days-- tourist sights are overrun with busloads of tourists from China. And they spend a lot. In recent years I've been to old haunts where Chinese tourists were rare and where Chinese tourists are now dominant: Paris, London, Rome, Florence, Kathmandu, Delhi... And, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, in 2016 there were nearly 3 million Chinese tourists to the U.S., generating-- wait for it-- $33 billion in tourist spending. That's a lot of money, not just for hotels, airlines, tourist attractions... but also for retail businesses. Just go to Fifth Avenue in New York and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and see who's walking out of shops with lots of bags from high end stores.

And the Chinese government, furious at Trump's foolish trade war, is starting to look at tourism as a way to strike at Trump. The Chinese government is starting gently-- warning potential Chinese tourists that the U.S. is dangerous to visit because of shootings, violence and criminal activities. The government owned Global Times warned potential tourists "If you are Chinese, take your embassy’s travel warnings very seriously before planning your next holiday or deciding where to send your kids to college, because by coming to America you risk being shot, robbed, raped, or beaten." They have specifically urged Chinese travelers to avoid Trump hotels and resorts.

Perhaps Hollywood will become an ever more popular tourist attraction when the City Council removes the Trumpanzee star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. The vote is tonight. There is always feces and urine on it and it gets vandalized all the time and has been completely destroyed twice. Their resolution (in part):

Monday, May 21, 2018

New Report Finds Risks Associated With Maintaining Airlines Outside The U.S.

Roland and I travel a lot overseas, and sometimes we wind up on funky internal airlines in places like Mali, India, Vietnam, Morocco, Hungary, Argentina, Thailand... We pray to the maintenance gods that everything was done competently and tell ourselves that it was all done under U.S. or U.K. supervision, knowing full well that it wasn't and wondering about how many corners were cut. Today I got a memo from the Transport Workers Union of America (AFL-CIO) in DC. The title is above, The subtitle is no less assuring: Ridge Global Report Says Safety and Security Concerns of Commercial Aviation Better Addressed When Repair and Maintenance is Performed in the U.S. The report itself is called Risks Associated With Foreign Repair Stations.
Airline passengers may be less safe when the plane they are flying on has been repaired or maintained in a foreign country. That is among the conclusions of a risk-based report by Ridge Global, a firm founded by former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on risks associated with the use of foreign repair stations by the U.S. airline industry.

The Transport Workers of America contracted with Gov. Ridge’s firm, Ridge Global, LLC, to assess the safety and security risks associated with foreign-based repair and overhaul facilities. The Transport Workers Union represents more than 140,000 workers in the airline, rail, subway, bus, utility and service industries.

Nearly 50-percent of maintenance work done by air carriers registered in the United States, including the major airlines, is conducted outside the United States. The facilities in foreign countries where commercial aircraft are repaired and maintained, however, are not as secure as those in the United States, the report states. Protections against unauthorized access are not as strong, and employee background checks are not as thorough, as those in the United States.

“Both conditions increase risks related to situations that could be more easily exploited by terrorists or individuals with harmful intent,” the Ridge Global report states.

“The Ridge Global Report exposes significant flaws in the mechanical maintenance practices of the United States airline industry,” TWU International President John Samuelsen, said. “Major air carriers’ lust for profits has driven them to fix planes on foreign soil, which has compromised the safety and security of America’s air travelers. It’s the dangerous dirty secret of America’s airlines, and the U.S. government must act to end this danger.”

“There are obvious disparities between domestic and foreign oversight and repair of commercial airlines,” said Gov. Ridge. “While there have thankfully been few U.S. aviation incidents in recent years, even one is too many, and so it is important travelers are aware how airplanes they fly on each day are maintained. Given the absence of direct oversight by the FAA and the differences described in our report, the qualifications of those responsible for oversight and those maintaining and repairing the aircraft in foreign countries cannot be viewed as meeting the same rigorous standards of inspection and repair as required in the U.S.”

The mechanics that do this critically important work at facilities located overseas, are not subject to the same intense scrutiny by government regulators, or held to the same high standards as mechanics in America, the report states.

One of the most significant disparities in terms of regulatory oversight deals with drug and alcohol testing requirements. Testing is mandated in the U.S. Employment and privacy laws in many foreign countries prevent such testing. Another contrast involves the inspection process itself. FAA domestic inspections can be random and without notice. That approach is prohibited in foreign countries.

“Foreign repair stations present risks that domestic ones do not,” the report further states. “These risks are due in part, to how laws and regulations are applied. We concluded that the safety and security concerns of commercial aviation are better addressed when the repair and maintenance is done in the United States.”
"Republican outsourcing in the Age of Trump" would have been another possible title, I guess. A tad too provocative, maybe?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Trump Slump Is Costing The U.S. Thousands Of Jobs And Billions Of Dollars In The Tourism Industry

I started traveling out of the U.S. while I was still a kid. I was just a teenager when my girlfriend and I decided to hitchhike from Long Island to the North Pole. We only got as far as Montreal... but we loved it. The following summer my pal Bob and I hitchhiked to Mexico City. Fantastic. And when I graduated from college, it was only $100 to fly to Luxembourg if you stopped for at least a night in Iceland. My girlfriend and I met a couple of teachers on the plane who were planning a week-long excursion, driving around the island and we joined them. Then we went to Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and England. The travel bug was not sated. When Margin went back to the U.S. to finish school, I set off in my VW van across Europe, adding Austria, Hungary what was then Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal to the list of countries I had been through-- before settling down in Holland for a few years-- and taking vacations in Sweden, Finland, Greece, France and Morocco. Since then I'vebeen to over 100 countries. I still love travel. Roland and I just got back from Thailand and we brought our friend David-- his first trip there-- who got attacked by a monkey who broke his shoulder and fractured a bunch of toes. Here's the culprit:

The Thai monkey that got David

The Thais are way too polite to bring up Trump. Even the ones we revery friendly with never mentioned Señor Trumpanzee. But, Thailand is crawling with Europeans who aren't polite in that way at all. Everywhere we went Europeans asked us, "How could you?" We explained to a Danish woman on a Chao Phraya water "bus" that California's results were 8,753,788 (61.73%) to 4,483,810 (31.62%) and she couldn't stop talking about how almost 4 and a half million Californians could vote for Trump. (David, who hadn't been attacked by the monkey yet, wanted to throw her into the Chao Phraya. But, generally speaking, everyone we met who wasn't a Thai, had something negative to say about Trump. It wasn't unlike-- just more intense-- than it was when Nixon and Bush were presidents. I just read that the the negative feelings in Haiti were so intense that the U.S. was U.S. had to shut down the embassy in Port-au-Prince. Trump is in Davos-- and Swiss people are protesting and letting him know he isn't welcome. "[D]emonstrators marched through the Swiss city chanting 'Trump not welcome,' with some carrying banners and placards reading 'dump the Trump' and 'Switzerland is hosting Nazis,' an AFP reporter said, putting the turnout at over 1,000." Thousand more people marched in Zurich and Lausanne... 'Trump is the incarnation of sexism, racism, exploitation and corruption,'" said one demonstrator. So what? Trump doesn't care.

But the U.S. tourism does. Travel + Leisure reported that "The United Nations World Tourism Organization announced last week that Spain overtook the United States as the second-most visited destination in the world (France remains number one) in 2017. The U.S. welcomed 72.9 million foreign visitors last year-- down about four percent from the previous year’s 75.9 million." Katherine Lugar, CEO of American Hotel & Lodging Association, pointed out that "Fewer visitors means fewer hotel stays, fewer meals eaten in our restaurants, fewer goods purchased in our retail stores, and fewer visits to our national attractions. It also means fewer American jobs and a loss to our economy."
The Pew Research Center found that unfavorable views of the U.S. in 37 countries increased 13 percent in the six months that Trump was in office. In response to a New York Times post, Europeans “overwhelmingly cited the Trump administration and its policies as reasons for avoiding or canceling trips to the United States,” according to the paper.
The Trump Slump in American tourism has cost our country 40,000 jobs and $4.6 billion. The U.S. News and World Review reported on Tuesday that on their list of best countries the U.S. has slipped to the #8 spot and they attribute it to Trump. His first year in the White House rattled the world confidence. Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group explained recently that the most prominent causes for global insecurity stem from Trumpanzee's move away from global leadership, and China's eagerness to fill the perceived vacuum.
The United States slips in this year's U.S. News Best Countries ranking, dropping to the No. 8 spot after falling one position from its 2017 ranking. Switzerland, an island of stable prosperity in a world of turmoil, remains the Best Country, according to a global survey of more than 21,000 persons.

The reasons for America's drop-- the second straight year its ranking dipped-- are fueled by the world's perceptions of the country becoming less progressive and trustworthy, more politically unstable and a president who after just a year in office is far more unpopular than any other head of state or company CEO.

As in 2017, Canada remains the No. 2 in the survey. Germany, as it was in 2016, is perceived as the most powerful country in Europe-- surpassing the U.K. to place at No. 3 overall, while the U.K. drops to No. 4. Japan rounds out the top five, the highest finish for a nation in Asia, a region which survey respondents increasingly believe holds many of the keys to the world's future. At No. 6 is Sweden and Australia moves up to the No. 7 position, surpassing the U.S.

...The Best Countries rankings come just days after Trump celebrates his first year as U.S. president. The U.S. is still seen as the most powerful nation. In many ways, however, the results reflect 12 months of ongoing signs of the decline of America's standing in the world. In this sense, a noticeable "Trump Effect" is taking hold of the U.S.
Here's the 2018 ranked list of 20 best countries:

1- Switzerland
2- Canada
3- Germany
4- U.K.
5- Japan
6- Sweden
7- Australia
8- Trumpland
9- France

10- Netherlands
11- Denmark
12- Norway
13- New Zealand
14- Finland
15- Italy
16- Singapore
17- Austria
18- Luxembourg
19- Spain
20- China

Trump's favorite country, Russia, is #26 and at the very bottom of the list, at #80, is Algeria. By the way, I've been to every country on the list and I don't agree with the evaluation at all. I hate Switzerland and the U.S., despite Trump is still the best.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Finally Found It... The Huts Of Mali

After Trumpanzee's comments about "shithole countries" and "African huts," I searched and searched through my Mali and Senegal pictures looking for huts. I finally found one (above, in remote Dogon country where not many people have ever heard of the U.S.) but most of these photos-- of Roland, primarily in Timbuktu and Djenne-- had no huts. There were fishing huts on an island near Mopti in the Delta that the Bozos used, but I can't find any photos. And there are no huts in Dakar in Senegal or in Bamako in Mali. Sorry, Señor Trumpanzee.