Now that American President Donald Trump has attempted to institute travel bans against a select group of nations and category of people, he has forced the industry to cope with its repercussions. The travel industry and US travellers may find even more new curves in the road ahead.
Five points to consider:
1. Will Cuba remain open to travellers?
It’s been the hot destination ever since the Obama administration relaxed the rules and let travel agents sell tours without special licenses. Now flights from the United States are flying, cruise ships are sailing and tourists are filling every decent hotel room in the country. Starwood will soon operate there, and Airbnb bookings are brisk. Will anything change now that Trump has taken over? Early in his campaign he indicated he was not opposed to opening Cuba – it is, after all, creating business for American companies. But in October, while campaigning in South Florida, he tweeted: “The people of Cuba have struggled too long.” Will he reverse Obama’s Executive Orders and concessions towards Cuba until freedoms are restored?
In a letter to its members, the American Society of Travel Agents, or ATSA, wrote of the Cuba issue: “This is the most concerning from our point of view,” but “how and even whether he will follow through on this, given the many other priorities he’ll have upon assuming office, is impossible to know today.”
2. Fixing airports?
You may remember the tangent Trump went off on during the first presidential debate – the part about the “Third World airports”. At the time, no suggestions about fixing the state of the airports were forthcoming, but Trump has since made a somewhat vague reference in his agenda for the first 100 days in office. He wants to put into place an American Energy & Infrastructure Act, which, through public-private partnerships and private investments through tax incentives, will spur US$1tril (RM4.43tril) in infrastructure investment over 10 years. Whether that includes airports isn’t certain, though at least one group, Airlines for America, which represents the US airlines’ interests, thinks it’s a positive sign.
3. Open skies?
Open Skies agreements allow air carriers unlimited market access to partner markets and provide maximum operational flexibility for airline alliances. That has greatly increased air and cargo service over the years – not to mention adding about US$4bil (RM17.72bil) in revenue annually, according to the Brookings Institution.
But American, Delta, United and the Airline Pilots Association have been fighting the Open Skies agreement with Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways the past two years because they claim the gulf states are receiving massive subsidies from the UAE and Qatar – subsidies strictly forbidden by Open Skies, which they weren’t getting when they joined up more than 25 years ago. The American airlines argue that the subsidies “threaten the jobs of 300,000 US aviation workers and the American aviation industry as a whole.” Trump has referred with great admiration to these airlines, so maybe he doesn’t want to cut them out of US service. Maybe he’ll just make them pay more for the privilege – which means travellers will, too. Then again, he could subsidise American airlines.
4. Opaque business?
The FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) re-authorisation bill is coming up in September, setting aviation policy generally, and, of particular interest to travellers, authorising federal aviation taxes. The airlines have been battling over how fares are displayed and advertised. Currently, they have to clearly display what the total cost of an airline ticket is up-front on the first web page or in an ad.
The airlines want to return to being able to show the fare and then separate out the taxes and fees. Advertising of this sort is called “transparent” pricing – the US$200 (RM886) fare you first see turns out to be US$800 (RM3,543). With the Trump administration and Republican control of Congress, ASTA is predicting the airlines will be able to go back to what they call “transparent” pricing. So follow along when the bill comes up for re-authorisation.
5. Talking politics?
No matter where you go, this election and the Trump victory have made global news. Expect to be asked about it. – The Record/Tribune News Service/Jill Schensul
In light of recent developments this story has been updated.