The world’s biggest hotel operator denounces travel ban as ‘not good’ during Dubai visit
Travel to the US from the Middle East has plummeted at least 20 percent, according to early data seen by the world’s largest hotel operator.
In Dubai, Marriott International president and CEO Arne Sorenson said President Donald Trump’s travel bans targeting Muslim nations were “not good” and had dampened what is otherwise an increase in demand globally.
“The travel bans are not good, period,” Sorenson said at the St Regis hotel in Al Habtoor City, Dubai.
“We do believe that travel to the United States out of the Middle East is down in excess of 20 percent and we think travel to the US from Mexico is down between 10-20 percent. And that’s not surprising; those are the markets where the political noise in the US is the most audible.”
The US banned from March 21 the use of electronic devices such as tablets and laptops on board any flight travelling from countries including the UAE and Qatar. Citizens of six Muslim nations in the Middle East and Africa also are banned from entry into the country.
Sorenson said it was too early to make a precise assessment of the impact but he expected it to hit leisure travellers. Most affected airlines, including Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, are lending laptops to Business and First class passengers – typically the classes in which businesspeople travel –to help mitigate the disruption.
“Our anticipation is that the travel bans are likely to have a more profound impact on discretionary travel than on business travel. Discretionary leisure travel tends to be more seasonal, it also tends to have a longer booking window, and so we’re going to need to have a few months before we really can assess how profound the impact is,” Sorenson said.
Marriott, which now operates more than 1.1 million rooms in 110 countries following its $13.6bn takeover of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in September, is still seeing an increase in its US visitor numbers despite the political concerns – but they could be even better, Sorenson said.
“The early suggestions are that arrivals to the US from all markets around the world might be up in the first couple of months,” he said.
“It doesn’t look like the total picture at the moment is as bad as you might think, based on the noise that’s out there.
“Logically … [total visitor numbers] would be even better without the travel bans.”
Sorenson said improving economic growth and optimism also could be driving the global increase in travel to the US.
Middle Eastern travellers avoiding the US are thought to be travelling to London instead, based on preliminary data, Sorenson said.
The US ban on laptops is currently expected to last until October 14.