Exclusive: Middle East to US travel drops more than 5 percent after travel ban attempts

PHOTO: Demonstrators participate in a protest by the Yemeni community against President Donald Trumps travel ban in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Feb. 2, 2017.PlayLucas Jackson/Reuters
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Planned travel to the U.S. from the Middle East has fallen 5.77 percent in the wake of President Trump's attempts at instituting a travel ban, according to a group that analyzes air travel statistics.

Just a week after taking office, Trump signed his first executive order temporarily barring travel from seven Muslim-majority nations. The move sparked chaos in airports around the U.S., with some inbound travelers already in transit detained upon landing or denied entry into the country.

After the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision blocking the so-called travel ban, Trump signed a new order replacing the original one; the second order halted travel from six of the countries named in the first order: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Though crafted to withstand a legal challenge, that order was also blocked by two federal judges on March 16.

The turmoil appears to have impacted foreigners' willingness to travel to the United States, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation.

In the first quarter of 2016, customers purchased 406,611 fares from the Middle East to the U.S.; that number dropped to just 383,154 in the first quarter of 2017 -- a difference of more than 23,450 fares, according to the data analysis by ARC.

Those statistics are "reflective of some uncertainty," said ARC Managing Director of Enterprise Information Chuck Thackston. "Given the back-and-forth on the executive orders and the court challenges -- and we're not sure yet where that's going to shake out -- I think that uncertainty for travelers that have discretion is leading them to say, 'well, maybe this year, we'll go to a different destination.'"

According to the U.S. Travel Association, travelers from the Middle East spend more than $3,800 per trip to the U.S.

Many of the airfares lost after the travel ban are likely from tourists, who tend to stay longer and spend more than business travelers, according to Thackston.

However, the average fare from the Middle East to the U.S. has ballooned, from $857.48 to $1,026.98 this year, more than offsetting the decline in travelers.

Overall, trips to the U.S. continue to rise, but the rate of growth has slowed, from 8.5 percent in 2016 to just 5 percent in the first quarter of 2017, ARC data analysis shows.