Metro Retail

NYC Shopkeepers Notice Tourism Shift as Travel Ban Expands

Netherlands native Vienna Romanov, 29, said she and her husband were aware of the United States’ travel ban when they planned their autumn tour of New York City and New England, but were undeterred.

“We’re very fortunate to have a Dutch passport because, not to be arrogant, but it brings us everywhere,” Romanov said.

Other travelers are not so lucky. On September 24, President Donald Trump issued a revised travel ban that added North Korea and Chad to the list of countries whose citizens are barred from traveling to the United States, including Yemen, Syria, Libya and Iran.

In April, NYC & Company, the official tourism organization for New York City, issued a report projecting an overall decline in international tourism in the city by 2.1 percent in 2017, in part due to a travel ban or policy of extreme vetting potentially dissuading visitors.

International tourism is a major source of retail revenue in the Soho, Nolita and Little Italy neighborhoods of Manhattan, and the ban has some small businesses concerned. All six of the shop owners and workers interviewed for this story reported a change in tourist flow this year, and noted concern that the travel ban could contribute to an unfavorable environment for foreign tourism.

Leila May Makdissi, owner of Cydwoq, a boutique in Nolita that sells handmade leather goods, said not only did her shop experience a particularly slow Columbus Day Weekend, but also fewer foreign tourists over the peak summer season.

“I don’t think necessarily the countries that are banned are the biggest source of customers,” Makdissi said. “But the whole feeling that America is closing itself to other people is more what I am worried about.”

Jennifer Wang, owner of Frozen Sweet, an ice cream shop in Little Italy, said her shop also experienced a drop in business from foreign tourists. She said foreign tourists account for about half of the shop’s customers, and she said she is concerned about how a further dip could impact her business. “It affects us a lot,” Wang said.

Since the start of President Trump’s administration, U.S. favorability has declined in many areas across the world, according to the Pew Research Center. Barbara Shelsky, manager of fashion boutique Nu New York in Nolita, said she is worried that the political climate could be affecting the country’s “cool” factor, as well as its reputation for openness.

Shelsky, who is originally from France, said her own family is wary about coming to the U.S. “The feedback is, ‘I’m not sure I want to come to New York, and I am not sure I want to give money to this country,’” Shelsky said.