Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet

Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet was a hit song in 1974 by the Canadian rock band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive in the album titled Not Fragile. The song’s title seems entirely apropos if the Trump administration’s proposal for “extreme vetting” gets under way. The measures make the recent travel ban (versions 1 and 2) pale in comparison and, unlike the album title, it would decidedly tip the tour & travel industry towards a very fragile state.

The Wall Street Journal reports on its website of April 4th 2017 that the administration is considering “far reaching steps for “Extreme Vetting”,   a  campaign promise of then candidate Trump.  While the measures were not clearly spelled out on  the campaign trail,  the WSJ article notes that under the measures being contemplated “foreigners who want to visit the U.S., even for a short trip, could be forced to disclose contacts on their mobile phones, social-media passwords and financial records, and to answer probing questions about their ideology.  Visa applicants are also likely to be subject  “to intense security reviews” with  “embassies spending more time interviewing each applicant.”  Startlingly, if true, the “changes could apply to people from all over the world, including allies like France and Germany.”

Few would argue with the administration’s position that “fighting terrorism is an urgent task that justifies tough rules.”  Nor with a “presumption toward letting people into the country toward a more skeptical outlook.”  But there  ought to be other less invasive means including those employed in security challenged nations like Israel.  That beleaguered country welcomes the equivalent of nearly 50% of its total population as tourists each year.  The ratio for the US in comparison is less than a third of its population which,  nevertheless, amounts to nearly $2trillion or over 8% of total GDP to the US economy. Evidently, the Israelis have found a happy medium that ensures both security and tourism inflows.

The changes in the visa process being contemplated include “asking applicants to hand over their telephones so officials could examine their stored contacts and perhaps other information. Visitors have had their phones examined at ports of entry, but that isn’t routinely requested during the application stage.”  It is hard to imagine that a significant minority of applicants won’t be deterred by these measures and choose alternative destinations for vacations.  As for utility, many former Department of Homeland Security officials note that the effort will be “time consuming” and  that “the real bad guys will get rid of their phones. They’ll show up with a clean phone.”  Leon Rodriguez, former head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services points out that “over time, the utility of the exercise will diminish.”

Given the foregoing, it may be a good idea for any and all associated or employed in tourism related activities to reach out to their congressional representatives as well as the Trump administration to express their concern with the extreme measures being contemplated.  The potential for disruption and loss to tour and travel could not be greater for what could well be minimal if any gains on the security front.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.