Donald Trump's actions ‘could hurt Irish tourism to US’

The American holiday market is becoming more lucrative than ever but US president Donald Trump’s action on immigration could stall progress, according to the CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA).

Pat Dawson told the Irish Examiner that many Irish holidaymakers felt increasingly uneasy about the welcome they would get in Mr Trump’s America — a factor that could stymie the increase in numbers of visitors looking to the likes of Florida and California, as old favourites such as Turkey and Tunisia fell by the wayside.

The ITAA represents 100 travel agents and 70 other sales outlets.

Mr Dawson echoed Thomas Cook’s outlook, published yesterday, that showed bookings to Turkey and north Africa suffered due to security concerns.

Thomas Cook said it was cautious about the rest of the year due to political and economic uncertainty, sending its shares down sharply, even though the tour operator produced solid first-quarter results and a rise in summer bookings.

Shares in London fell by up to 8%. Traders said the company’s cautious outlook was behind the steep fall in its shares, which erased gains made in the two weeks leading up to the results, even though summer bookings were ahead of last year, after the company responded to the security turmoil of 2016 by expanding its presence in Greece, Portugal, and Croatia.

However, Thomas Cook faced a revolt over pay, as more than 20% voted against the board’s planned pay awards for directors at its AGM.

Mr Dawson said that Irish holidaymakers were returning in big numbers to Spain, Portugal, and Croatia, as well as South Africa, where airline fares are offset by value for money in the cost of living.

“The value in South Africa is phenomenal,” he said. “More and more Irish people are realising that. It is doing very well.”

The introduction of US flights by Norwegian Airlines International and Wow Air was a potential boon to Irish holidaymakers, he said.

“With Norwegian and Wow entering the market, you can be sure Aer Lingus and other airlines will not leave them have a free run of it by sitting back and doing nothing,” Mr Dawson said.

“Norwegian and Wow are going to be providing serious competition. That means the established airlines will have to fight back hard, which means more benefit to the customer through lower fares. The American market could become massive.”

However, the potential growth of the market was potentially marred by Mr Trump and increasing belligerent talk by the far right on immigration and visitors to the US.

There is increasing speculation that legal immigration could also come under the microscope by the Republican-led Congress, while it has also been suggested that even holiday visas, which allow visitors in for 90 days, may be curtailed.

Mr Dawson said: “We in the ITAA would like our political leaders to impress upon their American counterparts that such rhetoric coming from president Trump is harmful and sends out the wrong message.

“We have found that Americans are among the friendliest hosts in the world when it comes to tourists and it would be a shame if that was threatened.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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