Anne Majumdar

The land of stars and stripes has never been more popular among travel-hungry Aussies. But a variety of factors could be about to throw a spanner in the works.

At the moment, due to a reporting delay, Brand USA can only supply Australian visitor numbers to the USA to June 2015. Those numbers look good, showing a 10.8% growth – the most significant increase in year on year growth over the past five years. But that was an entire year ago.

Since then, the situation’s been complicated by a permatanned presidential candidate, doom and gloom dollar predictions, even longer security queues and more gun violence. Or has it?

We take a look at the current picture and what the future holds…

 

Dollar dilemma

piggybank

The dollar is the most obvious factor to spring to mind, with the US no longer offering quite the same mind-blowing value of those distant days of parity.

Nonetheless, Brand USA director Australia and New Zealand Oliver Philpot told KarryOn things are going “exceptionally well”.

“Despite concerns over the impact on travel intention to the USA and actual travel numbers when the value of the Australian dollar dropped in December 2014, there is no evidence to show that overall visitor numbers have been affected,” he said.

 

Zika

Zika

Then there is the looming threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus which is expected to rapidly spread across the USA over the course of the year thanks to its close proximity to affected areas in the Americas.

In April, public health officials used strong language to warn about a Zika outbreak in the United States, as planning to combat the mosquito-borne virus climbed the agenda.

What would the virus mean for tourism?

Well, if we take a look back, 2003’s SARS epidemic saw arrivals to Hong Kong plummet a huge 68% two months after the World Health Organisation issued a warning. Meanwhile, Bloomberg Intelligence shows South Korea suffered a 54% blow after the 2015 MERS alert.

 

The Trump effect

Trump

Meanwhile, a more human problem is rearing its head. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump is, at best, outspoken and abrasive, so much so that commentators are concerned that, if he achieved the position, he may do a great deal of harm to the country’s revitalised tourism industry.

According to a recent study for Forbes, 45% of 500 US residents that fell within the target demographic for Trump Hotels said they would make a “specific point of not visiting Trump-branded properties over the next four years”.

Of those, 77% said the decision was to specifically protest his campaign.

Imagine if he was in charge of the entire country – would people around the world demonstrate their dislike by ditching a visit to the USA altogether?

Furthermore, Trump has indicated that, under his rule, Muslims would no longer be welcomed in the USA.

A recent study by DinarStandard and rating agency CrescentRatings found that in 2011, Muslims spent an estimated $126.1 billion on international travel – that’s 12.3% of all international travel. By 2020 overall annual spending for international Muslim tourism is expected to reach $192 billion.

Turning a nose up at a slice of that pie would deal a massive blow to US tourism.

 

Safety

questionmark

It’s been a bad month for the USA as news headlines were filled with high profile and tragic tales of gun crime, mass shootings and terrorism, most recently in Orlando, which may have left some travellers querying future travel plans.

The Australian Government’s Smartraveller website simply advises travellers to “exercise normal safety precautions” although it acknowledged areas for concern.

“Terrorism is a threat throughout the world,” it says.

“We assess there is currently a heightened threat of terrorist attack in the United States caused by those motivated by the rhetoric of extremists involved in the conflict in Syria and Iraq.”

It also referred to higher levels of violent crime and mass shootings in the USA, but stressed these incidents “rarely” involve tourists.

 

Security queues

airport queue

Visitors to the USA generally expect to be held up in hefty queues at airport security, with many missing connecting flights as a result of the lengthy waits.

And with visitor numbers on the rise, that is only expected to get worse. Particularly as the number of screening personal has actually been reduced. Although PreCheck screening programs were expected to speed things up, the number of passengers signing up for the services hasn’t met forecasted figures.

And although the TSA promises to tackle the issue, it may be a while longer until those queues are a thing of the past.

 

Cause for concern?

Apparently not. Despite everything,  Brand USA’s Philpot isn’t too worried.

“The main travel partners in Australia report that whilst there may be patches of softening bookings to the USA, overall, demand for the USA remains at record levels never seen before.”

The explosion of airline capacity on the route is a major driver with deep discounting on the back of lower fuel prices “leading to the most affordable flights available to the USA from Australia in history”.

“There has simply never been a more affordable, or better time to visit the USA,” Philpot said.

Other important factors include rising organic demand for the USA, significant stimulation of the market through the variety of marketing campaigns and increased tourism marketing investment in Australia from USA based tourism bodies. There are now more than 25 tourism organisations from the USA who now have marketers based in Australia.

And as for the future, Philpot is unfazed.

“The current trajectory of growth of 10.8% is significantly above official visitor forecasts over the next 3 years which are around 3- 5% and we expect the current growth to pick-up even further,” he said.

“With the onset of new airline capacity and the concern about political instability in Europe, the USA remains the most preferred holiday destination for Australians.”

Would any of these factors put you off travelling to the USA?