Trump Floats New Tourism Crackdown That Could Devastate Miami's Economy

Thanks to Donald Trump, the nation is already expected to lose $1.6 billion in tourism from Mexican travelers, who are skipping the States and flying to Canada, according to some analysts. On a local level, economic analysts worry that the so-called Trump effect from his xenophobic rhetoric and attempted Muslim bans is also discouraging Latin American tourists from venturing onto U.S. soil.

In most U.S. cities, this news would be sad but not crippling. In Miami, where tourism and international investment make up the majority of the local economy, this is a nightmare.

And that's before the Trump administration really drops the hammer on international travelers.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Trump is considering a major crackdown on all tourists entering the country. The Journal reports the new, "extreme vetting" procedures could affect tourists from America's closest allies, including the UK, France, and Germany. The administration's Muslim ban has stalled in court, but the "extreme vetting" review that accompanied it has been allowed to continue. And as part of that review, the Department of Homeland Security is considering increasing the demands the United States places on foreign countries for information.

Administration officials told the Journal that Trump is considering forcing every incoming foreign visitor — even if that person is stopping in the U.S. for a handful of days — to turn over his or her cell phone for inspection. In a move that is sure to give civil-liberties advocates heart palpitations, border-protection agents would potentially be able to scour a person's contacts, phone logs, and text messages for signs of wrongdoing. (This is technically a procedure available to Customs and Border Patrol agents already, but it's not mandated in every inspection.)

“What you can get on the average person’s phone can be invaluable," a senior Homeland Security official told the paper.

Put plainly, this is a recipe to tank the Miami economy. And oddly, it's yet another Trump proposal that seems tailor-made to wreak havoc on South Floridians: His budget has already proposed draconian cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which helps Miami track and prepare for hurricanes.

Further immigration crackdowns could deal a more immediate blow to Miami's job market. The city's largest economic drivers rely solely on foreign tourism: The folks crowding hotels and buying luxury condos are overwhelmingly foreign. As of 2014, foreign visitors were responsible for 70 percent of the money spent in the city's tourism sector, for example.

In 2016, foreign buyers also accounted for 36 percent of home sales. According to the Miami Association of Realtors, those outside investors are propping up the city's luxury-housing market. Foreign buyers paid an average of $590,000 for a home, as opposed to the $330,000 city norm.

Since last October, hotel taxes around town have slumped at a rate not seen since the Great Recession, and according to the Miami Herald, those tax revenues began to nosedive in January. Room rates in Miami's hotels are unusually low, the Herald reported. The city's simultaneous Zika virus crisis last summer certainly didn't help, but one tourism analyst told the Herald that Trump's reverse welcome mat might be creating ripples in cities such as Miami and New York.

“It’s trickling into the perception of visitation and welcomeness,” an Ernst & Young analyst told the paper. “The lodging industry is trying to really roll out the red carpet to international [travelers]... [but] it does hit markets like Miami and New York that are somewhat more international.”

Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer also noted that flight searches from foreign countries to the States have dropped since Trump's inauguration. More specifically, the travel website Kayak.com says British travelers are searching for Miami flights 52 percent less than last year. Being forced to hand your cell phone to a border agent after landing won't make a transatlantic flight sound any more enticing.

A drop in tourism means major losses to pretty much everyone in Miami. Hotel owners and real-estate tycoons, of course, will suffer, but so will the city's large service industry. The majority of Miami's low-income residents work at bars, restaurants, or hotels that cater to foreign vacationers — hoteliers can typically stomach a dip in profits, but many hourly workers in Miami can't afford to lose crucial restaurant tips or food-service shifts. During last summer's Zika outbreak, bartenders reported losing hundreds of dollars in tips they normally earned each week. That could translate to thousands of dollars in losses per year for people such as servers, bartenders, and cab or Lyft drivers.

And, of course, it bears noting that Trump's immigrant-crime crackdown is based on nothing but xenophobia: Crime in immigrant communities tends to be lower than national averages, and the majority of mass shootings in U.S. history have been committed by white Americans.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.