By Sabina Mollot
Concerned about the potential impacts the federal travel ban could have on New York City’s economy, Council Member Dan Garodnick chaired a hearing on the subject, where speakers said the ban has already caused financial losses.
Speakers from different organizations testified against the ban, with the takeaway message being that not only would it cut off access to business opportunities, but that New York has already suffered because of the ban — even without it having gone into effect. Garodnick, who chairs the Council’s Economic Development Committee, has openly blasted the president’s order as the “Muslim Travel Ban,” as it aimed to suspend entry to the United States by visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries. While federal courts ultimately were able to temporarily block the executive order, “the damage was done,” Garodnick said. He also referred to a more recent ban of electronics bigger than a cellphone on flights to the United States from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa.
“Let’s get real,” said Garodnick. “Prohibiting a business traveler from accessing a laptop or tablet during a 13-hour flight does more than create an inconvenience. It means an entire day of lost work — and productivity on the plane.” He also argued that any motivated terrorist would just find a way around the rule, anyway.
As for lost business, Garodnick said the city’s marketing arm, NYC & Company, had projected 13.1 million international tourists in 2017 prior to the implementation of the travel ban. After the ban, the number dropped to 12.4 million, a reduction of 700,000. This is also 300,000 fewer foreign tourists than the city saw last year, the first reduction since the recession.
Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, said that the ban would hit his tourist-destination neighborhood especially hard.
“Our neighborhood has 16 percent of the city’s hotel rooms,” said Tompkins. Tourists, he added, make up two thirds of audiences to Broadway shows.
Because of the tourism, 375,250 jobs in the sector were held in 2015. This includes jobs related to hotels, entertainment, food and construction, he said.
“Although no federal travel ban is currently in place, the reality is that New York’s tourism industry is already facing some very real headwinds,” said Tompkins.
The sentiment was echoed by Greeley Koch, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel, who said international flight bookings are down 6.1 percent from the same time last year from areas impacted by the ban. When these trips are postponed, he added, “That means postponing a hotel stay, postponing a restaurant.” He added that the electronics ban has left companies “skeptical” of the government’s motives and that many would not consider it acceptable to lose access to their laptops. “We protect our trade secrets and we cannot afford to have them go into the belly of the plane,” said Koch.
Additional concerns were brought up about potential hits to the city’s technology industry.
Julie Samuels, executive director of Tech:NYC, gave an example of how the ban is scaring away the talent, saying that a local startup called Andela, which connects African engineers with American employers, had one of its engineers detained by customs in February. The 28-year-old from Nigeria, in the United States for the first time, was also told he “didn’t look like an engineer,” Samuels testified. While he eventually made it out of there and was able to get the job at a New York startup, Samuels said such the ban “threatens the ability of these companies to grow and thrive here in our city.”
She also said immigrant New York City residents are 19.1 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs than those born here.
Following the hearing, Garodnick said he was even more convinced the city’s economy would suffer as a result of the ban.
“It cuts off New York’s access to the global community and it strikes right at the heart of what New York is, our nature as a global city,” he said.