President Trump's travel ban is on hold as lawyers battle over the executive order in court, but the confusion and uncertainty sparked by the order may have already inflicted pain on the travel industry.
A study of about 300 million online air travel searches found that flight searches from international origins to the U.S. dropped 17% since Trump took office and signed an executive order Jan. 27, banning travel from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia.
The travel ban was blocked by a federal district judge in Seattle. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined Thursday to overrule that decision. Trump said Friday that he was considering a new executive order limiting immigration, and White House aides said the administration wouldn't turn to the Supreme Court to defend the current order.
The study by the market research firm Hopper compared numbers from the final two weeks of the Obama administration with the first two weeks of the Trump administration. Flight searches dropped in 94 of 122 countries in the study, with the notable exception of Russia, where flight searches to the U.S. rose 88% in that period.
To see if other factors played a role in the drop, Hopper compared flight searches for the same four weeks last year and found searches declined only 1.8% between the two comparable two-week periods, said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper.
"It's hard to see any other short-term significant events that could be related" to the drop, he said. "It does seem a pretty strong association."
Business travel bookings in the U.S. dropped 3.4% in the week after the travel ban was enacted compared with the previous week, according to the Global Business Travel Assn., the trade group for the world's travel managers.
The group estimates that the drop amounted to a $185-million loss in business travel bookings. Like Hopper, GBTA studied the booking data for the same time last year and found no significant drop.
Michael W. McCormick, executive director and chief operating officer of the GBTA, attributed the decline to confusion and uncertainty among travelers. "The net effect was that business travel bookings were delayed or canceled," he said.
Travel executives, including the heads of Uber, Expedia and Airbnb, have condemned the travel ban, calling it discriminatory and bad for the travel industry.