Trump’s “terrorist” ban slows business travel

14 February, 2017

Australian business travellers are not directly affected by US President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. But industry leaders and business travel representative groups are concerned about the uncertainty unleashed by the ban and its impact on corporate travel.

According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, US officials have assured the Australian Government that Australian passport holders (“regardless of country of birth, nationality or whether they hold another passport”) are not affected by the US Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.

On 27-Jan-2017, the US State Department advised that visa issuance to nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen had been temporarily suspended following the signing of the Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. The executive order has been temporarily suspended by the US judiciary, but President Trump has indicated his determination to get it reinstated (or issue another order to replace it).

The ruling has created uncertainty among Australian employers

Australian business travellers do not require a visa to visit the US. However, the Australian Government Smartraveller website advises that the United States administers a strict entry regime and Australians may be refused entry if they do not comply with its entry requirements.

Any Australian visiting the United States for business or pleasure can be admitted for up to 90 days on an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). The VWP does not apply to journalists, or business travellers intending to stay in the United States for more than 90 days. These travellers must obtain a visa before departure and, in most cases, will be required to attend an interview at a US Embassy or Consulate.

The US assurance that the visa suspension for the seven nations will not affect Australia has not been sufficient to overcome concerns among employer groups. Mr James Pearson, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has noted that the executive order and its rapid implementation have caused uncertainty for Australian businesses, particularly those whose staff have dual nationalities and need to visit the US.

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Australia, also believes that employers are concerned about the implications for dual-nationality staff going to the US for business or a conference.

Business travel organisations find the ban has already had an extensive impact on business travel

While President Trump’s order continues to be tested by the US legal system, the two leading global corporate travel representative organisations have voiced concerns about the impact on business travel.

A survey conducted by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) found that 20% of companies see the US travel ban as causing their travellers difficulty. Of that group, 25% cite “fear of traveller harassment, fear of reprisals” and “new uncertainty factors” as contributing to those difficulties. More than a third (39%) of respondents stated the travel ban has the potential to reduce corporate travel.

ACTE’s Executive Director Greeley Koch said:

“These percentages are way out of line for an industry that is constantly under pressure, [...] Furthermore, business travel is about people. And people with bona fide visas should not be subject to fear, delays, or harassment over their visa document.”

Mr Koch added that business travellers and their companies abhor uncertainty. “If there is doubt about the validity of a visa, or worry about entering the US, or fear of reprisals, then business travellers will opt not to go. Companies with duty of care concerns will not subject their employees to these kinds of risks. This level of uncertainty is bad for business.”

On the nature and implementation of the ban, Mr Koch said, “The travel industry needs policy that eliminates confusion and uncertainty… Not policy that fosters it.”

Meanwhile, nearly half of the travel professionals in a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) poll expected their companies to reduce business travel over the next three months in response to President Trump's executive order.

GBTA notes that in the week following the executive order, approximately USD185 million in business travel bookings were lost as the uncertainty surrounding travel in general had a rippling effect on traveller confidence.

In his blog, GBTA Executive Director and COO Mike McCormick said: “Business travel drives lasting business growth and is a leading indicator for jobs and the economy at large. Upholding the travel ban will clearly cause a rippling effect through the travel industry, ultimately hurting the economy. It also unleashes travel disruption like we saw when the order was first implemented. While the White House’s stated goal was acting in the interest of national security, it did not give the civil servants responsible for implementing the ban any chance to do so effectively. There was too much uncertainty and a lack of clarity around the executive order, leading to general confusion. The net effect was that business travel bookings were delayed or cancelled.”

Mr McCormick added that instead of closing its borders, the United States should continue to pursue and focus on expanding security programmes like the Visa Waiver Programme, “which facilitates information-sharing among governments to ensure properly vetted travellers, making us all more safe and secure”.

He warns that the cloud of uncertainty could leave a lasting economic impact and urges the Trump administration to “pause this travel ban action, reassess its path forward with key stakeholders and preserve both our national security AND our economy for the future”.