Global Meetings

Crossing the U.S. Off the Destination List

While President Trump's travel ban remains hung up in federal court, it already is having an effect on bookings of U.S. cities for international business events.

Location United States. Green pin on the map.The proposed U.S. travel ban would affect only a small number of people — “less than 0.1 percent of all visitors,” Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, told CNN Money. What isn’t so small is the effect that the proposed ban is expected to have on travel to the U.S. “The whole rhetoric around [the travel ban],” Sacks added, “has damaged the U.S. brand as a destination.” Tourism Economics forecasts a 10.6-million decline in visitors to the United States this year and next — costing the U.S. economy more than $18 billion and around 107,000 jobs.

And it would seem that a chunk of that lost business will come from global events that have chosen to take the U.S. off their list of potential future sites. Case in point: the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM), an international organization dedicated to using neuroimaging to reveal the structure and function of the brain. After reading a story about the travel ban’s potential impact on scientific meetings in Convene’s March issue, OHBM Executive Director Joann Taie wrote to us:                                   
“Each year, OHBM hosts a four-day international conference of roughly 3,000 neuroscientists. This is viewed as the premier conference on brain mapping, using MRI and other imaging techniques, and it attracts senior research scientists, physicians, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students from over 45 countries.

“The conference venue alternates each year between North America and Europe or Asia, and we typically plan our meetings three years out. Our Council recently reviewed potential venues for the OHBM 2020 meeting, which is slated to be held in North America. Four captivating American cites (Austin, Miami, New Orleans, and Philadelphia) were in contention with Montreal and Cancun. The Council met to pick the finalists a few weeks after President Trump’s travel ban was enacted. Given our international membership and commitment to advancing science across the world, the Council was in unanimous agreement that the four American cities could not be considered for 2020. Between the convention-center rental, lodging of attendees, and food/entertainment, our American venues are losing millions of dollars.”

Further evidence of the travel ban’s collateral damage to the events industry comes from an international petition signed by more than 6,000 academics from all over the world, calling for a boycott of academic conferences held in the United States. Those who sign the petition are demonstrating their solidarity with academics and students who are affected by the travel order and therefore “unable to participate in conferences and the free communication of ideas,” the petition states. “We question the intellectual integrity of these spaces and the dialogues they are designed to encourage while Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded from them.”

While Tourism Economics may be able to predict the economic loss due to perceptions around the travel ban, we may never know the full effect that the loss of international scientific and academic events will have on our progress as a society.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.